The polite reminder of reporting rules came 24 hours before a West Asia-inspired pro-democracy protest scheduled on Sunday in 18 Chinese cities.
Dissident posts spreading through banned websites have asked Chinese citizens to 'stroll, watch or pretend to pass by' at sites in 18 cities every Sunday afternoon. Authorities are taking no chances though the first such protest failed last Sunday, with more police and onlookers than protestors gathered outside a McDonald's at Wangfujing, a major shopping avenue in Beijing.
Construction barricades have since appeared at the site making it difficult for a massive gathering. Prominent rights lawyers and dissidents have been detained or put under surveillance. Censorship has extended to block online searches in Chinese for US envoy Jon Huntsman who angered netizens after he was spotted at the Wangfujing protest.
On Saturday, an official reminded HT that foreign correspondents must 'abide by the regulations' and seek permission before conducting interviews. The official was referring to a 2008 regulation that 'to interview organisations or individuals in China, foreign journalists need only to obtain their prior consent.' He apologised for disturbing the reporter before hanging up.
The calls ranged from 'friendly reminders to specific warnings,' said the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC). Some correspondents were told to register for permission at a Wangfujing office with an unlisted number.
Over the week, China's top leaders have repeatedly ordered officials to be alert to maintain stability. "Despite China's development and growth in national strength, the country is still in a stage where many conflicts are likely to arise. There are still many problems in social management," said President Hu Jintao last weekend, calling for better management of the 'virtual society'.
The Internet invitations have asked citizens to dodge censors by spreading the message to stroll on Sunday using the code 'lianghui' --- two meetings --- which refers to the March session of the Chinese parliament and its consultative body.