New York Times reporters picked up by China near Tibet

Duo spent 17 hours in police custody despite cultural mission

Tibetan nuns in the Chinese province of Yunnan.

Tibetan nuns in the Chinese province of Yunnan. (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – A writer for the New York Times and his French photographer were detained by Chinese police for 17 hours after their visit to a Tibetan temple over the Lunar New Year.

Reporter Steven Lee Myers and photographer Gilles Sabrie were visiting the Dzongsar Monastery in Sichuan Province to observe monks rehearsing a dance for the Tibetan New Year, or Losar.

However, a uniformed police officer appeared at the temple and said there were questions to answer, Myers wrote in his piece, which took the place of the originally planned cultural feature.

He described the incident as a “self-inflicted embarrassment” as all he had planned to do was to write about holiday traditions in the region.

While Tibet is off limits to reporters without special permission, Tibetan-influenced areas in other regions, such as the Sichuan area which the New York Times duo visited, do not require any particular application procedures.

Initially, police told the two that as outside visitors, they should have registered with the authorities, but soon, they were barred from using their phones and had to wait hours for officials from another location to arrive, Myers wrote.

Those officials took them to their own town, questioned them for three hours and then told them they should have registered, even though there was no such rule, according to Myers.

The two were then driven to a hotel, where they had to argue before they could spend the night, while a guard waited outside. The next morning, they were put on a flight from Chengdu to Beijing, where central government bodies dismissed their complaints, Myers wrote.