As tens of thousands of foreign journalists arrive to test China's pledges to respect media freedom during the Olympic Games, the nation offered apologies Tuesday for the beatings that police gave two Japanese journalists who were covering a deadly assault by Muslim separatists.
Paramilitary police kicked and beat the journalists, throwing one to the ground, putting boots to his head and body, and damaging his photo gear.
In a separate incident, police entered the hotel room of an Agence France Presse photographer and forced him to delete photos of the attack scene, the French agency said.
The treatment drew sharp protests from the government of Japan, and Japan's Embassy in Beijing said in a statement that the Foreign Ministry had written a letter expressing regret for the incident.
A top Communist Party leader in this gas-rich region, meanwhile, said assailants had left literature at the scene of an attack a day earlier pledging “holy war” in China. In the attack, two minority Uighurs are suspected of commandeering a truck and plowing it into a platoon of jogging policemen, killing 16 and injuring another 16, four of them seriously, authorities said.
Shi Dagang, the party secretary for Kashgar prefecture, described the attack as “a well-thought-out and long planned” assault by Muslim separatists who want to sever the Xinjiang autonomous region from China and create an independent East Turkistan.
“Their aim is to use simple means to attack the Chinese government and turn the year 2008 into a year of mourning,” Shi said.
He identified the two arrested Muslims as a 28-year-old vegetable peddler and a 33-year-old taxi driver. He said nine homemade bombs and a homemade gun were found at the scene of the attack and that the assailants were part of a “terror group” with tentacles abroad.
Snapping photos at a crowded news conference where Shi spoke was Masami Kawakita, a 38-year-old photographer for the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper, who later described what had happened to him late Monday night as he photographed the street where the “terror truck” slammed into the jogging policemen.
Kawakita said paramilitary police swarmed him, lifted him off the ground by his arms and legs, and carried him inside a compound, where they kicked him and put a boot to his cheek.
“It was unbelievable,” said Kawakita, who's in China for two months to cover the Olympic Games.
Another Japanese reporter, 37-year-old Shinji Katsuta of the Nippon Television Network, also was manhandled, thrown to the ground and detained.
“This is utterly unacceptable anytime. It's particularly reprehensible just days before the Olympics at a time when China has promised complete media freedom,” said Jonathan Watts, a British journalist who's the president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of China.
The state news agency, Xinhua, said the border police would pay to repair the camera gear and other equipment and would offer medical treatment for light injuries.
It said that senior border police and city officials later apologized to the journalists, who, it said, had “disobeyed the rules” by entering an area under border police control.
Kawakita's employer disputed that version.
“We strongly protest against the violent detention of a reporter who was reporting by fair means,” Tokyo Shimbun said in a statement carried by Japan's Kyodo news agency.
As part of its pledge to win the right to host the Olympics, China offered international media complete freedom around the period of the Aug. 8-24 games.