Chinese authorities have warned foreign journalists away from reporting at key sites in major cities, with police warning some China-based correspondents that failure to comply with the new restrictions could cost them their visas.
Dozens of foreign journalists said they had been contacted by police and told that they might lose the right to work in China if they continued "illegal" reporting from sites mentioned in recent online calls for anti-government protests.
Journalists had also reported being "accused of trying to help stir up a revolution, disrupt harmony in China and simply cause trouble," the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said in a statement on its website.
The Associated Press reported that one of its correspondents who met with police on Thursday was told his journalist card could be revoked if he went to Beijing's Wangfujing shopping district, which was mentioned in calls for "Jasmine" protests, without prior approval.
Other journalists said they had been warned of unspecified consequences if they went to the sites mentioned in recent online postings calling for "Jasmine" rallies inspired by a wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East.
China loosened restrictions on foreign media during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, although sensitive areas like Tibet still require a special permit.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said repeatedly during a regular news briefing on Thursday that there had been no change in the reporting regulations that were made law after the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Under the rules, reporters are allowed to interview people and institutions in China, as long as they have their consent.
But Jiang accused some journalists of deliberately inciting trouble while covering "Jasmine" rallies, which were attended by more police and journalists than protesters for the past two Sundays.
She warned that journalists accused of flouting the rules would lose the protection of Chinese media laws.
She said there was no law to protect those who created what she described as "disturbances."
Reporters harassed, beaten
Last Sunday, more than 16 journalists were physically harassed by plainclothes and uniformed police in Beijing, with one American journalist hospitalized after a severe beating.
Police have rounded up dozens of dissidents since online messages from abroad urged pro-democracy gatherings inspired by the "Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia.
"The Chinese government has nothing to fear," Jiang told reporters on Thursday.
"I think China's reform and opening up has already proved that China's path of peaceful development is a correct choice," she said.
"Any attempt to affect China's stability cannot succeed."
Official media and some online comment have accused the Western media of overplaying the "Jasmine" rallies.
On the website Anti-CNN, netizens posted a series of photographs on overseas news sites that used images of armed police, protesters, and scuffles from unrelated times and places to illustrate stories about the "Jasmine" rallies, including news photos from Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service and by Pan Jiaqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.