A majority of foreign journalists who responded to a recent survey by a press group in China said they or their Chinese colleagues experienced harassment, obstruction or some form of intimidation when covering protests last year against the now-abandoned "zero-COVID" policy.

In the survey, which drew responses from 102 members of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China and was released on March 1, 62 percent reported challenges in reporting on the rallies, with respondents saying nearly a dozen local staff who observed the events purely for work purposes were detained or questioned by the police afterward.

The rare outpouring of public anger that broke out over lockdowns, quarantines and other stringent antivirus measures was witnessed across China in late November, with some participants publicly calling for President Xi Jinping to step down.

File photo shows people protesting against China's strict "zero-COVID" policy in central Shanghai in November 2022. (Kyodo)

In what became a symbol of protest against the authorities, many held up blank sheets of paper while shouting slogans. The draconian antivirus measures were withdrawn late last year following the rallies, with Beijing reopening its borders and abandoning quarantine measures in January in a full departure from the "zero-COVID" policy.

Some respondents from Western outlets reported being "tackled, hit repeatedly and detained by police," and said they were asked to delete images of forceful arrests in demonstrations held in Shanghai and Beijing.

The survey, conducted in December and January, said 2022 was "yet another tough and draining year" for the foreign correspondent community in China, with heightened COVID-19 restrictions causing a "near complete pause" in travel and reporting trips within the country.

Almost all respondents, or 91 percent, said they were unable to travel to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in 2022 because of COVID-19 restrictions, with many parts of the far-western region subjected to lockdown restrictions for months last year.

Some Western countries have criticized Beijing for alleged human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang.

The delays in Chinese authorities granting new visas to incoming journalists continues to be "a major bottleneck that have stymied adequate staffing for bureaus," the FCCC media freedom report said.

Looking ahead, the press group expressed "cautious optimism" for 2023 as China has ditched the stringent antivirus policy and reopened borders.

"However, we are not hopeful that the substantive issues at the heart of what makes China a daunting country to report on will be resolved," the report said, referring to pressure and threats against news sources, as well as surveillance by authorities.

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