The BBC slammed Chinese authorities after one of its journalists was “beaten and kicked by the police” while being arrested during his coverage of anti-government lockdown protests in Shanghai. But Beijing responded to the British media organization Monday by saying their story is baloney.
In its statement late Sunday, the BBC had said it was “extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai,” where China’s biggest demonstration against President Xi Jinping’s stringent COVID control measures was taking place. The BBC added that it was “very worrying that one of our journalists was attacked in this way whilst carrying out his duties.”
Video footage of Lawrence’s arrest shows law enforcement officials pinning the journalist to the ground before he was led away in handcuffs. The broadcaster said Lawrence was held for several hours before being released.
But at a regular news conference in Beijing on Monday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters that the BBC’s account of what happened was false. “According to our understanding, the BBC’s statement is not true,” Zhao Lijian said, according to Reuters. “According to authorities in Shanghai, the journalist in question did not reveal his journalist identity at the time, he did not openly show his foreign press card.”
Lijian added: “When the incident happened, law enforcement personnel asked people to leave, and when certain people did not cooperate, they were taken away from the scene.”
The shocking incident was met with condemnation by British officials and press freedom advocates. “The arrest of BBC journalist Ed Lawrence in China is deeply disturbing,” U.K. foreign minister James Cleverly said. “Journalists must be able to do their job without intimidation.”
In a separate statement, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China added that it was “very disappointed and frustrated at the increasing barriers placed on foreign journalists operating in China and the aggression displayed towards them by police.”
Early Monday, Lawrence tweeted a message of thanks to supporters for “the kind words and messages of concern.” He also flagged the case of Swiss journalist Michael Peuker, who was also briefly detained while covering the same demonstration in Shanghai on Sunday. His outlet, RTS, said in a report that Peuker and his cameraman were arrested before a “local police official” negotiated with officers to secure their release.
The journalists’ arrests come amid the most serious opposition to China’s ruling communist party in decades. Anger at Beijing’s strident “zero-COVID” policies, which continue to confine millions of residents to their homes in sweeping lockdowns, have led to countrywide protests. Fury at the pandemic control measures hit a new high last week when 10 people died in an apartment building fire in the city of Urumqi in the northwest Xinjiang region. Allegations circulating on social media suggested that lockdown restrictions contributed to the terrible death toll last Thursday.
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