Tibetan areas of China are no-go zones for foreign media
Along remote mountain roads of western China hundreds of kilometres (miles) from the nearest big city, police stand in the snow waiting to stop foreign reporters from going any further.
Past the checkpoints are no-go zones for the journalists who are trying to verify the government's portrayal of Tibetans as happy and content under Chinese rule.
"This is not an open area," a policeman told an AFP team this week after authorities discovered that the journalists had travelled through some of the checkpoints and made it to a Buddhist monastery in Qinghai province.
Many foreign journalists encountered more severe problems as they sought to travel through Qinghai and other areas of western China this week on the sensitive 50th anniversary of a Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.
One foreign journalist described the security crackdown aimed at ensuring no protests by Tibetans to mark the anniversary as "undeclared martial law".
Foreign reporters are banned from travelling independently to the Tibet Autonomous Region, but are officially allowed to visit Tibetan regions of western China such as Qinghai.
China's foreign ministry has insisted that foreign reporters are allowed to visit these areas with Tibetan populations, but that local authorities have the final say.
Beniamino Natale, Beijing bureau chief of the Italian news agency ANSA, said he arrived Monday at a monastery in Guinan, a town in Qinghai where monks told him a protest against Chinese rule was held last month.
Nine monks were arrested for that protest, they told Natale.
However police quickly arrived, causing the fearful monks to withdraw and preventing any further conversation from taking place.
The police then took Natale and his local driver to a police station where they were held for three hours, he said.
As police "harassed" the frightened driver, three monks from the monastery were seen being brought into custody, Natale said.
"The driver was very scared by the ordeal. There is a very heavy security presence now and they clearly do not want journalists there," Natale told AFP.
Aside from being ordered out of the La Jian monastery, the team of AFP reporters was repeatedly stopped and turned away from Tibetan-populated areas of Qinghai this week.
During one incident, the journalists were prevented from travelling to the monastery town of Rebkong, where protests flared on last year's anniversary of the sensitive uprising that forced the Dalai Lama to flee into exile.
Police officers photographed them and recorded their identification. Police were overheard warning their ethnic Han Chinese driver not to take the journalists to Rebkong.
Rosa Maria Mollo, Asia bureau chief for Spanish network TVE, and two colleagues were held twice by police last week in Tibetan areas of Sichuan province.
Police interrogated them about their activities and deleted tapes, said producer Isabel Hormaeche, a member of the TVE team.
Police later blocked further filming by intimidating interviewees, she said.
"We were also watched for two nights while being advised to stay in a hotel recommended by the police. Our local interpreter and driver were also harassed and interrogated at night in these hotels," she said.
The crew was eventually escorted from the area.
The scenes encountered by foreign journalists stand in contrast to China's official description of Tibetan areas.
Even as China tightened its security grip in recent weeks, its state-controlled media have issued a series of reports describing happy Tibetans living gratefully under Chinese rule.