November 25, 2008
Tom Van de Weghe, VRT
Eight assailants pulled Belgian journalist Van de Weghe, an Australian cameraman, and a Belgian assistant, from their vehicle before beating them and stealing money and equipment during a reporting job in Henan province, central China, according to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China and international news reports. The crew was recording interviews with AIDS patients in advance of World AIDS Day for the Flemish Radio and Television network VRT. The other crew members were not named in published reports, and VRT did not respond to an e-mail inquiry.
A Henan official confirmed that “a conflict” between the journalists and local villagers and officials had taken place, according to Agence France-Presse. The Foreign Ministry told foreign journalists that authorities would investigate the incident.
China permanently extended regulations protecting international reporters from official interference in their work–introduced in advance of the Beijing Olympics–in October. But the Beijing-based Foreign Correspondents Club frequently reports cases of local government representatives obstructing the investigation of issues which reflect badly on Chinese authorities.
A badly regulated scheme encouraging blood donation for cash incentives made Henan a focal point for the spread of the AIDS virus in the 1990s, according to published reports. The news reflected poorly on local officials involved in the project when it broke, and the issue remains sensitive. The VRT crew had been tailed all day and questioned once by police, according to the Foreign Correspondents Club.