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Chinese Take Film From Foreign Photojournalist

March 21, 1994

BEIJING (AP) _ Police today grabbed a camera from a foreign journalist in Tiananmen Square and exposed the film, which they feared showed a defiant leaflet-throwing incident.

In an apparently unrelated incident, a Chinese man who planned to go to the square this afternoon to distribute pro-democracy statements was picked up by security personnel as he left an interview with a Western news organization, witnesses said.

Earlier today, police wrested a camera from Manuel Ceneta, a photographer for a French news agency, who was at Tiananmen to cover the national legislature when the leaflets were hurled into the air. His camera was returned after the film was exposed. The police also hindered a cameraman from a Canadian television network.

All efforts to express personal grievances or non-official viewpoints are risky in Communist China, where the government does not tolerate divergent political views. Freedom of speech is restricted, and police put additional pressure on dissidents during the legislature’s annual meeting to ensure they do not disrupt the proceedings.

Several police, who were in the square to provide security for the legislative session, scurried to pick up the leaflets. The Canadian cameraman said he did not know the contents of the leaflets, and he did not see anyone arrested for tossing them into the crowd.

However, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that two Chinese women ″were stopped by other citizens for disturbing public order this morning.″

The wording suggested that the women were arrested. It is official practice when such protests take place to claim that the plainclothes police who immediately descend on the protesters are ordinary citizens.

Reporters were not allowed to go toward the scene.

The Foreign Ministry statement said ″it was improper for foreign journalists to cover news in China without going through necessary formalities.″ In the past few years, foreign journalists who have attempted to record protests have been arrested, beaten or accused of participating.

In recent weeks, dissidents have issued statements calling on the Communist government to respect human rights. Others have marked the weekend visit of Japan’s prime minister to demand his government pay reparations for the brutal occupation of China in World War II.

Gao Hongmin had planned to distribute an open statement to the national legislature today, but was picked up by security officers after visiting the Beijing offices of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., employees of the network said.

Update hourly