March 17, 2008 / 8:08 AM / in 11 years

China "escorts" Hong Kong reporters out of Tibet

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China put more than a dozen Hong Kong journalists on a flight out of Tibet on Monday accusing them of “illegal reporting”, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said, criticizing the move.

The Tibetan capital of Lhasa has been rocked by violent protest in which exiled representatives of Tibet in Dharamsala, India, on Sunday put the death toll at 80.

China has cracked down on media coverage and residents contacted by telephone said the city was under tight police watch on Monday ahead of a midnight deadline set by China for protesters to give themselves up.

Around 15 staff from at least six Hong Kong television, radio and print organizations had to leave on Monday.

The journalists association said in a statement the decision was “unacceptable” and violated promises to grant reporters greater freedoms to report and travel in the runup to the Beijing Olympics in August.

“They escorted them to the airport and even bought a ticket for them to Sichuan,” said association spokesman Mak Yin-ting. “Their presence (in Tibet) is totally legal.”

Foreign reporters are barred from traveling to Tibet without official permission, but Hong Kong’s press corps had managed to enter on Hong Kong travel documents and reported freely for several days, providing a valuable stream of compelling television images.

“They said we had illegally filmed shots of PLA (People’s Liberation Army) soldiers,” one of the journalists told Reuters by telephone from Chengdu.

“But I heard that someone senior was a bit unhappy with our reporting and gave the order to throw us out.”

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 but with wide-ranging autonomy and guarantees of its way of life, including a largely free press.

Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jerry Norton

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