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Journalists "illegally" held in China, says US envoy Jon Huntsman Jr. (UPDATES)

The U.S. ambassador to China and the EU have expressed concern that foreign journalists were "illegally detained or harassed" while covering protests in Beijing over the weekend.

China jasmine beijing huntsmanEnlarge
Chinese police surround a group of foreign journalists as security is ramped up, with at least 300 hundred uniformed police guarding the entrance to the Jasmine rally site, designated in an online appeal, in the Wangfujing shopping street in central Beijing on Feb. 27, 2011. Citizens have been urged in an online appeal to gather each Sunday for "strolling" protests at designated sites in 13 cities across the country. (Goh Chai Hin/Getty Images)

The outgoing U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman Jr., said Monday that American and other foreign journalists were "illegally detained or harassed" while covering protests in Beijing over the weekend.

And the European Union delegration to China issued a statement saying it was "troubled by accounts of foreign journalists being detained without explanation and being physically intimidated or assaulted."

It was the second Sunday in a row that mass gatherings were called across China by anonymous online activists to protest against the government in a so-called "jasmine revolution."

In response, China reportedly deployed a SWAT team, attack dogs and scores of plainclothes security agents in central Beijing.

China has mobilized its vast state-security machine in the past few weeks to prevent the kind of unrest racking the Middle East and North Africa, according to the Wall Street Journal. It has detained or confined dozens of political activists to their homes and tightened Internet controls, especially on Twitter-like microblogging sites.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has also pledged to tackle public concerns such as inflation, runaway growth, and corruption in an apparent bid to defuse a call for weekly rallies in 13 cities.

No individuals or groups have claimed responsibility for organizing the recent protests, which began Feb. 20. The US-based Chinese pro-democracy website last week circulated an open letter and other statements calling for protests. A link to Monday's statement was circulated on Twitter by Wang Juntao, an exiled leader of China's 1989 democracy movement that led to bloodshed in Tiananmen Square, according to dpa.

A statement claiming to be from the organizers of the "jasmine movement" on Monday said Sunday's turnout had exceeded expectations despite heavy security. The statement said the protest organizers had received reports of actions in more than 100 cities on Sunday, but it did not name the cities or back the claim with other evidence.

The activists have now called on protesters to protest by "strolling" past designated sites in the capital and several other cities on March 6, according to a report.

"We will analyze our situation closely and will issue the exact cities and locations where the Jasmine Revolution's next round of walking will take place in the afternoon of March 6, 2011, at 2 p.m.," said the statement by the "Chinese Jasmine Revolution Organizers" on a new blog.

Jon Huntsman Jr. said in a statement that one reporter was "severely beaten and detained for many hours," according to CNN.

"I call on the Chinese government to hold the perpetrators accountable for harassing and assaulting innocent individuals and ask that they respect the rights of foreign journalists to report in China," he said.

The EU delegation to China, in a statement obtained by GlobalPost, said:

"The Delegation of the European Union to China is troubled by accounts of foreign journalists being detained without explanation and being physically intimidated or assaulted in Beijing on Sunday 27th February 2011.

"We urge the Chinese authorities to respect the rights of foreign journalists to report freely in China according to the relevant laws and regulations, and also to ensure their physical safety while carrying out their work.

"We call on the relevant authorities to clarify the legal basis for the physical obstruction and detention of foreign journalists on Sunday.

"Today we met several of the journalists directly affected by the events in Beijing on Sunday, who recounted their ordeals, including accounts of physical violence, intimidation and detention without explanation. We call upon the Chinese authorities to fully investigate these cases and hold the perpetrators to account under Chinese law."

CNN reporters, meawhile, describe being shoved, dragged and at times carried away from the scene. Their cameras were confiscated and footage was deleted, and a press card was taken away from Yoon, who wrested it back from an officer who refused to give his name.

"We found out many other journalists were treated the same and, in some cases, much worse," Yoon wrote. "A former colleague and friend of mine, Steve Engle of Bloomberg News, had been dragged into an alley by several police who beat him up. He ended up at the hospital."

Huntsman, who appeared to put his own presidential ambitions on hold when he became Barack Obama's ambassador to China, announced Jan. 31 that he would be leaving Beijing on April 30, giving the administration just three months to fill a crucial diplomatic post.

The moved angered the White House, according to the Washington Post, as the ambassador had spent time during Chinese President Hu Jintao's recent visit with Obama but gave no indications that he was planning to resign.

According to the Financial Times, Huntsman's intervention in the events surrounding the call for a “jasmine revolution” in China is likely to prompt criticism from Beijing that the U.S. is trying to use the unrest in the Middle East to sow dissent in China. Privately, Chinese officials criticized Huntsman after he was photographed in Wangfujing at the time of the first planned protest.


— Freya Petersen