Being a foreign correspondent in China is tough.
In 2013, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China reported five major attacks against foreign journalists in the Middle Kingdom. Tibet, Xinjiang and social issues such as the HIV blood harvesting scandal, government dissidents or the Falun Gong movement are the most sensitive topics, according to the FCCC, although recently reportage on land disputes has been sensitive as well.
After analyzing the organization’s 2013 incident reports, below are the three worst things that can happen if you’re reporting issues outside the Communist party’s favor.
Attacked by a Mob
An organized mob violently attacked a Sky News team on December 13 in Henan province.
Correspondent Mark Stone and his crew were reporting on the detention and disappearance of a Christian minister and his two-dozen followers at Nanle County Christian Church in Nanle, a small county located in central China. The team was interviewing lawyers of the detained Christians when a bus pulled up outside the prosecutor’s office.
About 50 men and women exited the bus and started throwing stones, assaulting cameraman Andy Portch and trying to steal his camera.
A police car parked nearby drove away once the attack began. Stone, his colleagues, a lawyer and two local Christians fled inside the prosecutor’s office and wedged the door shut with a sofa and desk.
Three hours later, officials from the local office of the Foreign Ministry arrived to assist the Sky News team—apparently they were alerted by their superiors in Beijing. They were able to disperse the crowd, and safely escort the crew from the building. Sky News then promptly left Nanle.
Officials said they did not know who the thugs in the crowd were. Yet, the lawyers whom Stone had been interviewing said the local government hired them to attack the crew the day before.
Car Chase and Assault
After chasing an ARD minivan down a highway, two men smashed the vehicle’s front window with baseball bats on February 27 in Hebei province.
The German TV team was reporting on the urbanization of Da Yan Ge Zhuang, a small northern village, and filming the city square, where a new mansion neighbored old-style farmhouses.
A car drove up and started filming the German group. The crew left the square, and two cars, later joined by at least two more, chased the car and tried to force the minivan off the highway and deliberately cause a collision. The vehicle stopped, and five men surrounded the van, attempted to get inside and attacked the vehicle with their fists.
ARD then fled the scene, but the vehicles pursued them, forcing them off the highway, onto a sidewalk, and rammed the minivan to a complete stop. Two men from the pursuing vehicles attacked the van with baseball bats and smashed its front window. The ARD team bulldozed their way past a car parked in front the van, and fled the scene.
Finally they came across two motorcycle policemen. Yet despite policemen’s assistance, the crew’s pursuers caught up with them, and continued to smash and punch at the vehicle’s front window.
A local witness told ARD correspondent Christine Adelhardt that one of the pursuers was the village Communist party secretary.
Eventually police reinforcements arrived to the scene, and escorted Adelhardt and her crew to the police station for questioning. Adelhardt saw a number of the men who attacked her car at the police station, but was unsure if they were detained. When she asked to file a charge of attempted homicide against the men, a local official assured her that the report had already been filed.
A policeman then told Adelhardt that the men had been offended by the TV crew’s presence in the square and that the Germans should have asked for permission prior to filming, although Chinese government regulations state that foreign journalists can film public places without permission.
Computer Files Erased
Laptops, cellphones and files from the SD cards of a Der Spiegel team were destroyed on December 29 in Guizhou province.
Correspondent Bernhard Zand and his Chinese cameraman were reporting on five boys who died from carbon monoxide poisoning inside a dumpster in Bijie, after spending the night inside the trash receptacle and lighting a fire inside to keep warm. While the crew was in the small, southwestern city they reported being followed by an unknown man the entire time.
On the evening of December 29, Zand and his cameraman checked into the Kempinski Hotel in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou. The two went for dinner, and when Zand returned he found his laptop and iPhone soaked in water. All the photos on an SD memory card in his computer were deleted, and a large number of files had been deleted from his laptop. Most of the files on his assistant’s laptop were deleted as well.
The Kempinski Hotel security chief said the CCTV cameras had not recorded any footage of the intruders, although the cameras were pointed directly at the Der Spiegel crew’s rooms.
Reports are based on Foreign Correspondents’ Club incident reports, available to FCC members.