From manhandlings to misunderstandings, the number of hostile circumstances foreign reporters filed to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) quadrupled from 2013 to 2014. Most incidents dealt with misunderstandings of the laws protecting foreign reporters in China or with local officials attempting to prevent reportage on human rights activist trials. In 2013, nearly all reports dealt with local officials trying to conceal forced housing relocations.
“Note that there are many smaller interferences that were reported but not published,” FCCC manager Theresa Geissler wrote in an email. “A lot of other minor ones were not reported at all.”
Below is a look back on the three most hostile incident reports journalists filed to the FCCC in 2014.
Police prevent journalists from reporting, approaching trial
BBC, CNN and Sky News correspondents were prevented from approaching and filming the courthouse where a prominent Chinese human rights activist was being tried on January 22. The CNN crew was kicked, pushed and punched by Chinese security before being forced into a nearby van and driven away from the scene.
BBC correspondent Martin Patience, the cameraman and producer arrived at 8:45a.m. to the north gate of the Beijing courthouse where activist Xu Zhiyong was being tried. The crew was not allowed to leave their car.
About 11a.m. the crew joined the other journalists who were about 100 meters away from the west gate of the courthouse. Everyone stood outside the police cordon. A group of protesters stood at a nearby subway entrance, carrying a red banner and shouting encouraging slogans for the activist. The police pushed the foreign journalists up the road, while the Chinese supporters were thrown into a police van and driven away.
CNN correspondent David McKenzie and cameraman Charles Miller started filming about 300 meters away from the courthouse, on the oppose side of the road. There were no police lines to indicate the area was off-limits.
Uniformed policemen interrupted McKenzie while he talked on camera, and prevented Miller from filming. They seized both men, forced McKenzie’s fingers back and pressed him to the ground. Both him and the cameraman were shoved into an unmarked van. One plain-clothes thug hit McKenzie on the head, and kicked his shins. Another snapped the microphone and eyepiece off the camera.
The two men were driven a few kilometers away from the courthouse and left on the street.
Meanwhile, at noon, the BBC team stood about 30 meters away from the courthouse where the trial was occurring.
“It’s calmed down,” Martin Patience said to the camera.
Then, one policeman approached. He reached for the camera. Three plain-clothes thugs then appeared and shoved the journalists up the street.
“This is what we have to go through on a daily basis when we try to report what the Chinese government doesn’t appear to want us to report,” a Sky News reporter said, as plain-clothed officers hustled him away from the scene.
A Chinese government spokesman said that the CNN, BBC and Sky News incidents would be investigated, but that without law and order there would be “chaos” in China.
SWAT team prevents TV crew from going live
A SWAT team prevented a TV crew from approaching and filming the courthouse were a prominent Uighur academic was being tried on September 23 in Urumqi.
Journalists from an international, 24-hour news broadcaster received approval from the local foreign affairs office to film Ilham Tohti’s trial. But, on the day of the verdict, the crew was not allowed any closer than 300 meters from the courthouse.
About noon 10 plain-clothes officers, some of them very agitated, approached the crew and, without any explanation, started manhandling the Chinese producer. When the Chinese cameraman tried to film the scene, the police started jostling him. One policeman threw the producer’s news assistant card to the ground, saying it meant nothing, and demanded to see the man’s Chinese national identification card instead.
After a few minutes, two uniformed policemen appeared and politely checked the journalist’s identification. They allowed the reporters to stay, and the other officers vacated the scene.
Later that day, when the crew was about to go live, two SUV’s filled with a Chinese SWAT team arrived where the reporters were filming. One officer stood in front of the camera, while another demanded the crew shut down their computer and satellite phone.
The journalists explained that they had permission from the foreign affairs office and police to film, but the men didn’t care. The TV crew called the police officer from earlier, and he explained to his colleagues that the TV crew were not doing anything wrong. After that, the SWAT team was “very nice and cooperative,” according to the report. But, the crew had already missed the initial live shot.
Police detain, lock reporter in restraining chair for 14-hour interrogation
A reporter was locked in a restraining chair and the pictures deleted from his cellphone during a 14-hour detention on October 23 in Beijing. Following the confinement, the man’s Chinese visa was shortened by six months.
The correspondent arrived about 9:10a.m. that Thursday to a street near the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, which deals with local complaints. The man walked around the area, took about 10 photos and a petitioner passed him a leaflet, which he put in his pocket without reading.
After an hour of milling about the area, several uniformed men asked the reporter to show his passport. The man didn’t have it on him, and asked to go home. Four men then grabbed him, and dragged him into a room approximately 20 meters away.
The correspondent asked the men to identify themselves, as all officers are required to do by Chinese law. They refused. Are you a journalist, one security guard asked. The correspondent confirmed he was a reporter, and showed them his press card. His requests to make a phone call were denied, and his mobile phone was confiscated. The reporter also asked several times if he could leave and walked towards the exit, but the security men pulled him back. One uniformed officer bumped into the man and fell over in a theatrical manner, grabbing his ankle like it was hurt.
A new security staff arrived at 11 a.m. The reporter asked again for identification from the men. A plain-clothes officer shoved him against the wall in response. They started to interrogate him. Why did you come to the street near the petitions office, one man asked. The reporter was accused of pushing a police officer.
At 1p.m. the correspondent was transported to a police station. Police told him to take off his clothes for a physical exam. When the reporter refused, police decided to skip the test. Officers then escorted him to an interrogation room, and locked him in a metal chair “for his safety.” The correspondent asked again if he could make a phone call or contact a lawyer for advice, but officers refused. The man was interrogated again. Officers tried to get him to confess to pushing an officer.
At 4:30p.m police gave the reporter a drug test. After, he was put in a room with chairs and a bed and detained until 1:30a.m. Three officers watched him at all times.
Finally, the results of the “investigation” were revealed. The correspondent was accused of obstructing police, and pushing an officer. The reporter refused to sign the statement. Police then produced another document that included the same charges, but had a space below for the reporter’s objection to the accusation that he pushed a policeman.
An hour later, police forced the man to delete photos from his phone. One officer threatened the reporter, saying his Chinese visa (his ability to work in the country) would be affected. The reporter was released.
On November 6, the bureau chief of the reporter’s agency was summoned to Beijing’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a meeting. Foreign journalists must present identification without arguing or “challenging the authority” of Chinese police, an official said. The official then made it clear that reporters do not need special clearance to walk near Beijing’s petitioner center. The meeting went well, and both sides agreed that the incident had been blown out of proportion.
Following detention, the correspondent has since been issued a press card valid for just six months, instead of the usual one-year duration.