BEIJING — China appears to be rolling back some press freedoms, barring foreign journalists from working near a popular Shanghai park and along a major Beijing shopping street after calls for weekly protests in those spots appeared online.
The new restrictions put the popular leisure spots on a par with Tibet as out-of-bounds areas where foreign reporters need special permission to work, and come after journalists were attacked and harassed while working in the areas over the weekend.
Bob Dietz, the Asia coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the treatment of journalists in Beijing on Sunday was "the worst aggression against the foreign press we've seen since the Olympics in 2008."
"Such a heavy-handed response discredits the ruling Chinese Communist Party and highlights their fear of popular opposition," Dietz said in a statement.
The violence and tighter restrictions follow anonymous online calls for peaceful protests every Sunday in dozens of Chinese cities, inspired by the demonstrations that have swept the Middle East.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu on Tuesday urged foreign journalists to report assaults to the police and to observe China's rules and regulations while doing their jobs.
Foreign journalists have traditionally been afforded greater freedom to report in China than local reporters, who face strong censorship and can be fired for reports considered overly critical of officials or government policies.
But foreign reporters who tried to take photos or shoot video on Beijing's Wangfujing shopping street on Sunday were told they needed special permission to work there. An Associated Press photographer was told Tuesday that the area near People's Square in Shanghai was also off limits.
Security in the capital is always very tight in early March when the country holds its annual two-week legislative session, and dissidents are routinely put under house arrest or taken in for questioning around this time. The session begins Saturday.