ITN journalist, covering demonstrators in Beijing, is roughed up

Hong Kong, August 14, 2008–John Ray, a reporter for British television ITN, was detained and roughed up by police while covering a pro-Tibet student demonstration in Beijing on Wednesday. Ray said he was dragged into a nearby restaurant and forcibly held down by police, ITN reported.

“I tried to explain to them that I was a British journalist, but they would not even let me take out my identification documents,” the BBC quoted Ray as saying. The BBC report includes video footage of police loading Ray into the back of a van.

Another video, combining photographs and an audio recording of the incident, is available on the Web site of The Guardian newspaper. “I am a journalist and you’re arresting me. Why are you arresting me?” Ray says clearly and repeatedly. Repeated Chinese translation of his words is also clearly audible. The video shows police manhandling several other journalists and photographers, as well as footage of the demonstrators. The incident took place in the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park near the National Stadium, where demonstrators had tried to hang a banner reading “Free Tibet.” Police also arrested eight of the campaigners, ITN reported.

A public security bureau official identified only as Zhang told The Associated Press today that Ray was taken away because “the police did not understand his identity.”

“These sorts of incidents are a real failure on the part of China to follow through on its pledge to allow journalists to cover the Games without interference,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.  “If China won’t allow journalists to do their job, the IOC must step in and bring as much pressure as it can to bear on the Games’ hosts.”

ITN, the news branch of British television channel ITV, circulated a statement today by e-mail today saying it would protest Ray’s detention to the Chinese authorities in the “strongest possible terms.” Police released Ray with minor injuries after about 20 minutes, the statement said. CPJ has posted video of Ray’s report on its blog.

International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said they were investigating the detention. “If necessary, will raise our concerns with the appropriate authority,” she said, according to AP.

Ray is a fully accredited China correspondent for ITV News, and has been based in Beijing since 2006, according to ITN.

Chinese police recently obstructed international journalists trying to report on a reported terrorist incident in Kashgar. The Chinese government has apologized for some of these incidents, according to The Guardian. More reports of foreign reporters being harassed during the Games are discussed in the CPJ Blog.