A BBC journalist was kicked and beaten by Chinese police while being detained for covering the country’s largest uprising since the Tiananmen Square protests more than three decades ago.
The BBC said it was “extremely concerned” about Ed Lawrence’s treatment after his violent arrest in Shanghai was captured in disturbing videos shared online.
“During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police,” the BBC said of Lawrence, adding he was then “held for several hours before being released.”
Lawrence himself noted a Swiss journalist was briefly detained and “at least one local national was arrested after trying to stop the police from beating me.”
Cops later grabbed phones and cameras and forced people to delete photographs of the protests, according to the reporter, who described distressing events such as a presumably unconscious guy being taken away.
The incident on Lawrence “happened while he was working as an accredited journalist,” according to the BBC, who added that it was “extremely concerning that one of our journalists was attacked in this manner while carrying out his duties.”
According to Chinese officials, Lawrence was arrested “for his own good in case he caught COVID from the crowd,” according to the outlet, adding, “We do not consider this a credible explanation.”
The British government joined in the condemnation, with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly calling Lawrence’s treatment “deeply disturbing.”
“Media freedom and freedom to protest must be respected. No country is exempt,” Cleverly tweeted. “Journalists must be able to do their job without intimidation.”
UK Business Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News that the incident was “a considerable concern.”
“There can be absolutely no excuse whatsoever for a journalist, who was simply covering the protests going on, being beaten by the police,” he said.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, gave a fresh excuse, claiming the BBC man “did not identify himself as a journalist and didn’t voluntarily present his press credentials.”
However, other Western journalists who detailed their own harassment by cops said they had immediately shared their press credentials.
Michael Peuker, a reporter for Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS), said his ID was not enough for him and his cameraman to be briefly detained by officers who swarmed around them as they tried to go live on air.
He described the police tactic as “revealing of the treatment of foreign journalists in China.” Obstacles, intimidation, and harassment on the ground have become commonplace.”
Protests erupted across China after at least ten people were burned alive in an apartment building in Urumqi, in the northwestern province of Xinjiang, where some residents have been locked in their homes for four months. Many people claimed that people attempting to flee the fire were thwarted by locked doors or other pandemic restrictions.
The protest is the largest popular uprising since the army crushed the student-led pro-democracy movement in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the first of its kind since Xi Jinping took power a decade ago.
During his tenure, Xi has overseen the quashing of dissent and expansion of a high-tech social surveillance system that has made protest more difficult, and riskier.
Nonetheless, some protestors screamed anti-Xi slogans momentarily in Shanghai on Sunday, which might be considered sedition and punished by prison time.
In response, police deployed pepper spray to disperse protests, and scores were arrested and brought away in police vans and buses.
China’s enormous internal security system is also known for spotting potential troublemakers and apprehending them while no one is looking.
On Monday, police increased their presence in places where demonstrators took to the streets over the weekend, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuhan, where COVID initially developed three years ago.
Chinese expats across the world showed solidarity with small-scale vigils and protests reported in London, Paris, Tokyo and Sydney.
However, a foreign ministry spokesman maintained Monday that reports of widespread anger “does not reflect what actually happened.”