|Norwegian Authorities Noticeably Unapologetic – Norwegian Journalist Harassed by Chinese Police|
| [06.10.2011, 02:21pm, Thu. GMT]|
|One year after awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, Norwegian NRK journalists still find themselves the object of frequent break-ins, habitual surveillance and non-stop harassment. |
China's government is an angry dragon with a long memory. A year feels like only a short puff of history. The cold political winter storm blowing from China's government toward Norway is showing no signs of letting up.
Beijing is still waiting on an apology from Norway. An apology that Norwegian authorities clearly are not going to give - no matter what color our government might be wearing, China and Norway have come to a frozen standstill..
Leaders of China's Communist Party sputtered with rage when one of China's most important democratic activists, Liu Xiaobo, received the Peace Prize last year. Their rage was fueled by fear of losing their power, money and privilege to a democratic China.
After Xiaobo was awarded the prize, I became relentlessly hounded by Chinese security police.
As a Norwegian and a scary foreign journalist I was watched and harassed.
One incident stands out vividly in my memory. Shortly after the announcement, my wife and I went bicycling in one of Beijing’s beautiful parks.
Outside the park’s gates stood two men in blue Catalina jackets. They had stone cold faces with cigarettes dangling in their hands. They stood beside their car with engine running and doors open.
They seemed to just be hanging around but as soon as they saw us, they jumped into their expensive black four-wheel drive. They gave us hard looks and drove up alongside us.
My wife and I were biking in beautiful Ritan Park in downtown Beijing. We were there to enjoy the sun and silence in the middle of the city.
The Catalina Guys rolled along behind in their powerful car us at cycling speed.
We could not see their faces behind the headlights and grime. After a while, they narrowed the gap and pressed up closely behind our bikes before speeding away and turning at the next intersection.
The black car had no distinguishing marks and carried a civilian license plate.
It was the security police.
Still in the park, we walked up a small hill to where old men gather around a Chinese pavilion and fly their homemade kites.
We would not be left in peace for long.
As we wandered down from the kite hill, a third Catalina-Jacket Guy stood in the bushes with a camera and snapped pictures of us two Scandinavians walking among swaying willow tree branches and bright green leaves.
He put his camera into his pocket and stared at us intently before turning to run down the slope, disappearing into the bushes.
He intended to make us aware of his presence.
The idea was that we would see him and his colleagues in the black car with blacked out windows. They were letting us know that they knew our location at all times and were in complete control
The idea is to spread fear and uncertainty.
Little has changed since that time although the police cut back on visual monitoring. NRK.no is banned from entering China, and foreign journalists continue to be vigorously monitored. Calls for democratic demonstrations against the government have created more general interest in correspondents - not only for me from Norway. So I feel that I am now in the mainstream, not just a Norwegian outcast!
It does not mean that surveillance has been less extensive - just that others now others share in being watched. For example, the security police break into your apartment and show that they have been there - but nothing is stolen. Of course, computers behave more strangely after such visits.
Some colleagues have also been subjected to physical harassment and have been beaten up by plain-clothes police. Others have been arrested for having interviewed Chinese people who are trying to protest against injustice.
It is not easy to get the job done as a journalist in China. Many issues are considered politically sensitive, including consumption of luxury goods, which have increased sharply in this country.
If one is to interview for such reports, permission must be obtained from the "relevant authority". The only problem is that no one can tell us exactly who that "relevant authority" might be, or where they are located.
Interviews with politicians or other officials are out of the question. After the peace Prize last year, no Chinese officials have responded to my telephone calls or emails.
When I am at the Foreign Ministry's daily press briefing and ask for information such as, “What is the legal basis for NRK.no being banned in China,” I am given answers that don’t make sense, such as, “In China the Internet is free. In China, we follow the law.”
Translation equals, "Javel, ja? All right, yes?”
Although I have difficulty getting access to Chinese authorities, they never have problems knowing where I am and what I am doing. So I make sure everything that is said everywhere, can be public - and each time I take the elevator, I wave at my watchers observing through the camera in the ceiling.
How has it been with the main character in this drama, the winner himself?
Two days after the award last year, his wife was allowed to visit him in prison. He said that he would dedicate the prize to all the victims of the massacre against students who demonstrated for democracy at Tiananmen Square. June 4 1989. We have not heard any remarks from him this month and only the immediate family is allowed to visit him a few times a year.
Recently there was a small sign of life through one of his brothers. Little brother Liu Xiaoxuan told wire agency AFP that the Nobel Peace Prize winner had been allowed a one-day leave from prison in connection with his father's death. It happened on 18 September, on the seventh day after his father died. This is an important day for the Chinese to commemorate the dead.
A leave of absence does not mean prison conditions and prison time will be changed for the Peace Prize winner. It expresses only that the Communist Party leadership is aware that Chinese culture's emphasis on the dead parents should be treated with respect.
All indicators reveal an increasing repression of diverse ideas in communist China. Along with many other activists, artist Ai Weiwei was arrested in April and "disappeared" for weeks without any mention of him. Such "secret" arrests and imprisonment without the matter being considered by court are by law not allowed in China.
The country's Communist Party leadership is above the law, and its wishes are carried out, even when in direct conflict with the statutory text.
The government has come up with a remedy for such illegal arrests of which there are many. An amendment has been proposed to the country's penal code, to allow imprisonment for up to six months without being told the accusation, and without family or others being notified of the arrest. Such a "secret" detention would be in full compliance with the law.
Relations with Norway turned to ice after last October 8. There has been no thaw and a there is a non-relationship between political authorities in Norway and China.
Norwegians would be happy to have a softening and return to the good cooperation that existed before the Peace Prize. Chinese authorities require nothing less than an apology from the Norwegian government before the relationship can improve. No Norwegian politicians have come on official visits to China, and negotiations on a free trade agreement have been frozen indefinitely.
The fact that the Norwegian Oil and Energy Minister was speaking with a Chinese Deputy Minister during a lunch at an international conference in Beijing does not count. Ola Borten Moe was neither received as a Minister nor spoke with Chinese counterparts as is customary in such visits.
Businesses, however, have little to complain about. Trade is largely as it was before and trade exchanges between Norway and China are increasing. The Chinese have no intension of harming their economic interests!
There have been problems in a few key area. The Norwegian Veritas (DNV) was hurt when Chinese authorities revoked licenses that affected hundreds of workers in China. DNV now says the problem is resolved. Worse, there have been problems with Norwegian salmon exports to China. The authorities in Beijing have created so many formal obstacles that exports fell by 60 percent so far this year compared to the corresponding period last year.