Journalists backing Xi refused entry to China

Linda Choy

BEIJING has retaliated against Hong Kong journalists who signed a statement in support of jailed reporter Xi Yang.

It has rejected their applications to cover next week's visit by a Taiwanese delegation to the site of the Qiandao Lake boating tragedy.

At least seven media organisations were told by the local Xinhua (New China News Agency) office yesterday that if they wanted to cover the event they had to send journalists who had not signed the petition.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) yesterday expressed regret at Beijing's move and said it was retaliatory and penalising.

Last month 117 journalists from 23 media organisations endorsed a statement expressing their concern and anger at the 12-year jail sentence imposed on Ming Pao reporter Xi for ''spying and stealing state secrets''.

They also decided to boycott media invitations from China which they believe to be propagandist until the end of this month.

Chinese officials sent the journalists' statement and copies of their signatures to the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party, the All-China Journalists' Association, the State Council's Information Office, and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing.

In Hong Kong, the local Xinhua office, the Hong Kong Government, the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong and the News Executives Association also received copies.

Yesterday an official from the State Council's Information Office told the South China Morning Post that since its applicant was one of the signatories she was denied permission to cover the Taiwanese delegation's visit.

An official at the local Xinhua office also told the Post that if it wanted to cover the event it had to send another reporter who had not joined the boycott.

Ming Pao's application was also rejected, because the State Council's Taiwan office said it had no authority to handle Ming Pao's application.

Ming Pao had wanted to send its Taiwan correspondent.

Sun Nansheng, director of the propaganda department of the local Xinhua said that it was ''normal'' that the applications were turned down since the journalists had openly declared a boycott.

Since the boycott has a time limit, the ban would probably be temporary, he said.

The HKJA said yesterday the ban was proof that China's existing rules on Hong Kong reporters was a mechanism to ''screen'' and control reporting.

It was also contrary to Beijing's statement that Xi's case was an individual one with nothing to do with normal reporting, the HKJA said.

A local member of the Preliminary Working Committee, Tam Yiu-chung, said yesterday it was reasonable for reporters to show their concern for a fellow reporter who had been jailed.

''They should not be punished just because of this,'' he said.

National People's Congress delegate Liu Yiu-chu also said China should not discriminate against reporters who had signed petition letters to express their personal views.

''It is wrong for China to officially blacklist them and bar them from reporting on the mainland,'' she said.

The tourist boat fire on Qiandao Lake killed 32 people, including a 24-member Taiwan tour group last month.

The delegation consists of members of the Straits Exchange Foundation.