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Journalist beatings erase Wukan optimism

Sina Weibo (Sun Breaking News)

This unconfirmed group of photos reportedly show villagers from the Zhejiang village of Panhe protesting what they claim are illegal land grabs by local officials.

BEIJING – If you thought that Guangdong province’s peaceful handling of the Wukan uprising last year would become the precedent for managing future mass protests in China, guess again.

Early Tuesday morning, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China notified journalists that three employees of European news agencies had been attacked in two separate incidents this past week while attempting to cover a land dispute story in eastern China.

The three were attempting to cover protests in the village of Panhe in eastern Zhejiang province. The first attack happened on February 15, when a Dutch journalist was accosted by a group of what appeared to be plainclothes police after interviewing villagers in Panhe.

The reporter was beaten and had his notebook and camera memory card confiscated.

The next day, a French reporter was attempting to drive to Panhe with his Chinese assistant when another car collided into theirs. The reporter described the incident as “obviously 100 percent intentional.”

After the journalist's vehicle was rammed, a group of men approached the car, dragged his Chinese assistant out and assaulted him.

When they finished beating the assistant, the men walked to the side of the road and smoked cigarettes until a police car arrived.

No arrests were made, but the local Wenzhou government apologized for the incident, according to the French journalist

Chinese police beat-up journalists

To be sure, press restrictions in China have been relaxed considerably in recent years, but since last year’s anonymous calls for a “Jasmine Revolution,” local municipal and provincial governments appear especially sensitive to negative press and foreign reporting on so-called "mass incidents." 

It’s unclear whether the Panhe attacks represent a government-driven reversal in strategy for dealing with foreign press coverage of mass incidents. It is nevertheless a stark reminder of the dangers of reporting local disturbances despite the optimism inspired by the peaceful resolution of the Wukan rebellion.

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