The BBC has said Chinese police assaulted one of its journalists covering a protest in Shanghai and detained him for several hours, but China disputed the account and said he did not identify himself as a reporter.
Hundreds of people took to the streets in China’s major cities on Sunday in a rare outpouring of public anger against the state.
Footage on social media showed a man whom other journalists identified as the BBC’s Ed Lawrence being arrested by men in police uniforms.
“The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai,” a spokesperson for the British broadcaster said in a statement on Monday.
“He was held for several hours before being released. During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police. This happened while he was working as an accredited journalist.”
‘Follow Chinese laws’
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the BBC’s statement did not reflect what actually happened, and that Lawrence did not identify himself as a reporter or show his press credentials.
“According to our understanding, the BBC’s statement is not true. 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,” Zhao said.
“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.”
Zhao warned international media to “follow Chinese laws and regulations while in China”.
Foreign reporters in China are required to carry a government-issued card identifying themselves as accredited journalists when covering news events.
Lawrence tweeted on Monday to thank his followers, adding he believed “at least one local national was arrested after trying to stop the police from beating me”.
‘Arrested for his own good’
The BBC, in its statement before the Chinese ministry comment, said it had not been given a credible explanation for Lawrence’s detention.
“We have had no official explanation or apology from the Chinese authorities, beyond a claim by the officials who later released him that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught COVID from the crowd,” the broadcaster said.
A British government minister on Monday denounced the Chinese police actions as “unacceptable” and “concerning”.
“Whatever else happens, freedom of the press should be sacrosanct,” Business Secretary Grant Shapps told LBC radio.
A correspondent for Switzerland’s national broadcaster RTS was approached by police while reporting live from China on the protests.
Michael Peuker thought he was about to be detained by the three police officers who surrounded him while he was reporting.
“I will be taken away to the police station after this,” he said live to the camera.
The broadcaster later reported that Peuker identified himself as a journalist, after which the police officers left without taking him or his cameraman with them.
The latest demonstrations — unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping took power a decade ago — began after 10 people were killed in a fire in Urumqi, the capital of the far-western region of Xinjiang, that many of the protesters blame on protracted COVID-19 lockdowns.
The deaths have become a lightning rod for frustrations over Beijing’s dogged commitment to zero COVID and its combination of strict lockdowns, mass testing, and tracking that continues to impede people’s lives three years after the first cases of the then-unknown virus were detected in the central city of Wuhan.