In China, journalists attacked while covering land dispute

New York, February 16, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by a series of violent attacks on international journalists that appear aimed at suppressing coverage of land-related protests in Panhe, in eastern China’s Zhejiang province. 

“Violently attacking journalists is a crude and reprehensible way to suppress coverage of land-related protests, which are an issue of growing importance in China,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The central government must wrest control from local officials who resort to such thuggery.”

On Wednesday morning, Dutch reporter Remko Tanis was kicked and beaten by a large group of men he believes were plainclothes police and hired thugs, the journalist told CPJ. The memory card from his camera, as well as notebooks and other documents, were taken from him. Today, two other journalists were attacked, according to an international news report.

Tanis, a Shanghai-based reporter for the Netherlands Press Association, arrived in Panhe around 6:30 a.m. and began interviewing the organizers of a protest against land grabs in the village, he said. Hundreds of people in Panhe have been protesting the seizure and sale of village land by the local government, Chinese state media has reported. During Tanis’ interviews, other villagers arrived to warn him that police were on their way.

 A group of around 100 men soon surrounded the central village building where Tanis was conducting his interviews. Without identifying themselves, the men broke the windows and kicked in the doors of the building.

“They dragged me out of the room into the other area of this building, into a wet market,” Tanis told CPJ by telephone from Shanghai. “There were about 20 or 30 people surrounding me, each taking their turn beating or kicking me.”

Tanis didn’t sustain any serious injuries from the beating; his attackers appeared to restrain themselves to some degree because he was a foreign journalist, he said. The villagers he was interviewing fared worse. Beside him, a woman was thrown to the floor and kicked brutally by a large group of men.

“I tried to ask them, ‘Who are you?’ and ‘On whose authority are you acting?'” Tanis told CPJ by telephone from Shanghai. “Every question was answered with a kick or another beating.”

Around five or 10 minutes later, men who said they were from the county foreign affairs bureau arrived and pulled Tanis into their car. Once inside, they told Tanis that he had caused trouble by reporting in Panhe. A few minutes later, another group of unidentified men surrounded the car, and once again beat and kicked Tanis, taking his bag. The county officials later drove Tanis to Wenzhou. His bag was returned to him, without the memory card from his camera or his notebooks. Documents given to him by the villagers were also missing.

Today, France 24 reporter Baptiste Fallevoz and Jack Zhang, who was acting as his fixer, encountered similar violence in Panhe, the website Shanghaiist reported. A group of around 20 to 30 men surrounded their car, removed the two journalists and beat Zhang on the head with his video camera until he bled. Police blamed rival villagers for the attack, and reimbursed the journalists for damages, according to Shanghaiist.

Village protests are a sensitive topic in China because of perceived threats to authority, and domestic news coverage is closely controlled by central government authorities. International journalists have been given nominal freedom by the national government to report on events of this kind. But on the local level, it is common for journalists to face harassment and occasional violence by plainsclothes police and hired thugs. Their local sources, as well as Chinese journalists, are at particular risk.