23rd Mar 2018

Belgian police try to censor posters ahead of China visit

Local police in Brussels told organisers of a New York-based Chinese dance company to remove posters of a performance ahead of China’s presidential visit to the EU next week.

President Xi Jinping and his entourage will be staying at the Sheraton hotel near the Brussels’ National Theatre, which is staging a traditional Chinese musical by the Schen Yun Performance Arts troupe.

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  • China's president Xi Jinping (l) is making his first appearance in Brussels (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The dance makes reference to Falun Gong, a meditation practice widely persecuted by the Chinese Communist party since 1999.

BHS Promotion, an ad agency behind the poster campaign, told this website on Friday (28 March) they received a phone call from the Brussels central police department to remove the offending billboards during Xi’s visit on Monday and Tuesday.

The police later backtracked, but their handling of the situation has caused concern.

“We had a call, but finally we don’t move anything,” said a BHS Promotion spokesperson.

The agency usually sets up between 25 to 50 posters in its ad campaigns in Brussels.

Asked why they were instructed to take down the Shen Yun posters in the first place, he said it posed “problems for diplomacy”.

Adding to the confusion were conflicting instructions sent out by two different local police departments.

One letter sent from the central police department to the Belgian Falun Gong Association (BFGA), which organised the performance, asked them to either cover all the posters or remove them.

The letter, seen by this website, listed the streets to and from Xi’s hotel to the European Commission at the Schuman roundabout.

A separate letter, sent by another police department with jurisdiction in the north of Brussels and also seen by EUobserver, asked them to remove just two posters near the hotel.

Spokespersons for both police departments were unable to comment.

“They [police] did confirm on the phone that this was for the coming of Xi Jinping but they have never put that in writing,” Nicolas Schols, BFGA president, told reporters in Brussels.

Schols asked the police departments and the mayor of central Brussels to explain the legal basis for removing the banners.

Schols said they received written confirmation on Friday that the posters can remain.

“We don’t believe Xi Jinping himself is aware of this pressure,” noted Schols.

He believes people at the Chinese consulate who support the former Communist leader Jiang Zemin are responsible.

Zemin launched the Falun Gong crackdown in China.

Schols said the Belgian police had confirmed to him a “crisis cell of internal affairs is being pressured by the Chinese consulate.”

China’s embassy to Belgium could not be reached for a comment. Its embassy to the EU declined to say anything.

Liberal British MEP Edward McMillan-Scott condemned the censorship attempt, however.

A parliament vice-president, the euro-deputy asked the police and the mayor to justify the ad bans but has yet to receive any response.

Xi’s visit to Brussels is being hailed as a major event.

It is his first visit to the European Union and the first ever visit by a Chinese President to the EU institutions.

The Chinese leader, along with EU chief Herman van Rompuy and European Commission President Barroso, is set to discuss the global economy, EU-China bilateral relations, defence co-operation, among other issues.

For its part, the European Commission said media would not be allowed to pose Xi any questions.

“The EU side wanted to have a press conference but the Chinese side did not want to have a press conference and so therefore there is no press conference foreseen for this event,” said commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde.

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