TORONTO, January 16 - Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin on Friday called on the Chinese Embassy to explain the withdrawal of travel visas for two Canadian citizens accompanying his trade mission to Beijing and Hong Kong next week.
A reporter and a cameraman, both Chinese-born Canadian citizens from the New Tang Dynasty Television Canada, said their visas had been granted Wednesday, but were revoked on Thursday.
The withdrawal of the visas came two days before Martin is scheduled to leave for his Asian tour, which also includes Japan, and tsunami-ravaged nations Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.
It will be Martin's first state visit to China as prime minister, and human rights and Tibetan groups in Canada have called on him to bring up their concerns with leaders in Beijing.
Danielle Zhu and David Ren say the withdrawal of their visas shows how far the Chinese Communist government will go to quash freedom of the press. Both are practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, banned in China since 1999, but say that doesn't justify the revocation of their visas.
Zhu, 39, said she came to Canada as a student in 1996, hoping to escape the "unhappiness" that she felt among her parents' peers due to repression by the government.
"I thought that after I became a Canadian citizen, I would enjoy the complete freedom like everybody in Canada," Zhu told reporters. "But actually, I can still see the power that the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist party can have on free soil."
Joe Wang, president of NTDTC in Toronto, said his station has the only live satellite broadcast into China that the government is unable to block. He believes the station's extensive reports on the SARS crisis in China and Beijing's human rights record, as well as the treatment of Falun Gong members, are behind the revocation of the visas.
"We do not shy away from reporting sensitive issues," Wang said of his station's Chinese-language reports. "I think it's fear. They have a lot to cover up."
When reporters attempted to contact the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa, calls were put forward to telephone voice mail and unreturned.
The independent broadcaster asked Martin to step in and demand the reissuing of the visas.
"This is a very serious issue," Martin told reporters in Ottawa. "We believe fully in freedom of the press. We have asked the Chinese Embassy here in Ottawa for an explanation. Our ambassador in China has asked for an explanation from the government."
Wang said the Chinese government has been harassing the network, which has stations around the globe, since its North American launch in February 2002. Wang said the government has unjustly labeled the network, which features news, entertainment, sports, business and children's programming, as "Falun Gong media."
Beijing says members of the Chinese spiritual movement belong to an "evil cult" that threatens to sabotage social order. China has arrested thousands of followers since it outlawed the group in 1999.
"I can tell you now that NTDTV is an independent media," Wang told reporters at a news conference. "It's not a Falun Gong media, but we're not shying away from reporting on these issues."