A polish journalist critical of China’s human rights record claims that she and at least one other reporter were unable to receive proper accreditation to cover President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) visit to Poland last month due to Beijing’s pressure on the Prime Minster’s Office in Warsaw.

In yet another sign of China’s growing influence in Eastern Europe and the consequent impact on press freedom, Hania Shen, a journalist with Gazeta Polska Codziennie, says that she and another journalist were denied the accreditation required to be able to cover Xi’s separate meetings with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Beata Szydlo.

In an exchange with The News Lens International, Shen, a Taipei-based Asia correspondent for Polish media, said the schedule of Xi’s visit “was kept quite secret by Polish authorities.”

“It seems that the Chinese side did not want to repeat what happened in the Czech Republic” — which the Chinese leader visited in late March — “where in each place that Xi visited there were protests,” Shen said.

The two events — the meetings with Duda and Szydlo — were mostly photo opportunities as no press conferences were planned, Shen says. This was the first visit to Poland by a Chinese head of state in 12 years. The two countries discussed enhancing bilateral ties and signed various agreements on finance, investment, civil aviation, science and technology, as well as education. Polish media even referred to the signing of a “universal strategic partnership pact.” Ahead of his visit, President Xi also published a signed article in the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita titled “Setting Sail for Full Speed Progress of China-Poland Friendship.”

Although the President’s Office told Shen after Xi’s visit that she was on the list of journalists who were given accreditation, she and her paper never received the confirmation needed to be able to cover the meetings, she says.

The Chinese side reportedly requested to see the list of journalists who were to be given accreditation to attend the two events with President Xi. According to reports in the Polish press, Chinese officials may have used the occasion to cross out the names of journalists it found unpalatable and pressured Warsaw to have them removed from the list.

Shen flew from Taiwan and arrived in Poland on June 17, two days before President Xi’s arrival. That same evening, she received a phone call from her newspaper telling her that the Prime Minister’s Office had contacted the paper to inform them that, at the request of the Chinese side, Shen should not be granted accreditation. The Prime Minister’s office nevertheless said it would give accreditation to any other journalist from Gazeta Polska Codziennie.

“My paper did not agree to that,” Shen says.

She also reveals that Tom Ozimek, the correspondent for the Epoch Times Deutschland and a Polish national, also applied for accreditation, but did not receive it.

Such denials of press freedom with the complicity of foreign governments have not only occurred in Eastern Europe. During a June 2010 visit to Ottawa by then-president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), two media organizations — New Tang Dynasty TV and the Epoch Times — were blocked from attending four public appearances by Hu. According to reports in the Canadian press, the decision of the Harper government was made in accordance with terms laid out by the Chinese consulate to shield President Hu from criticism and to deny access to media outlets that are known for their criticism of the CCP. And in June this year, while on a visit to Ottawa, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) made headlines when he publically berated a Canadian journalist who had asked a question about human rights in China.

Asked why the Chinese side pressured Warsaw to deny her accreditation, Shen believes that her criticism of Beijing was behind it all.

“I believe the Chinese side didn’t want me to cover the visit because of my articles about China — especially my interviews with Chinese dissidents and articles about the persecution of Christians, minorities, journalists and lawyers in China, [and] also about events in Taiwan and Hong Kong.”

She also believes that her signing a joint letter to Polish President Duda and Prime Minister Szydlo (the English version was published by The News Lens on June 6), in which the signatories requested the Polish authorities raise the issue of human rights and civil liberties in China during Xi’s visit, may also have played a role in the denial of her accreditation.

As expected, the issue was not brought up publicly during the visit.

“I find it very disturbing that the Polish government bowed to the pressure of Chinese authorities and prevented Polish journalists…from covering the visit,” Shen laments.

During Xi’s visit to the increasingly Beijing-friendly Czech Republic in March, the first by a Chinese head of state in 67 years, the two countries elevated their relations to “strategic partnership” and signed a host of cooperation agreements, according to state-run Xinhua. The Shanghai-based China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC), China’s sixth-largest private enterprise in China and which seems to enjoy close ties with the CCP, has been behind several acquisitions in the Czech Republic’s financial, media, and sports industry in recent years. Its chairman, Ye Jianming (叶简明), is now a special adviser to Czech President Milos Zeman.

President Xi also visited Serbia earlier in June.

Some fear that Poland and other countries in Eastern Europe may be heading in the same direction as the Czech Republic.

As of press time, the Polish Prime Minister’s Office has not responded to a request for comment from TNLI.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White