Diplomats are charged with promoting cordial and constructive ties between nations. But Chinese embassy officials in France and Thailand appear bent on fostering fear and disgust with recent efforts to harass and intimidate France 24 reporter Cyril Payen.
Payen, who recently returned from Tibet after filming an undercover documentary, “Seven days in Tibet,” has received a barrage of harassing phone calls, text messages, and thinly veiled threats from Chinese officials, apparently from embassies in Paris and Bangkok, according to a report by France 24 and the journalist himself.
Following the release of Payen’s film on May 30, Chinese embassy officials showed up at the headquarters of France 24 in Paris, demanding that the documentary be removed from the channel’s website, France 24 said. The channel refused. At that point, Payen was already en route to Bangkok, where he is based.
On arrival in Thailand June 4, Payen began receiving calls demanding he meet with Chinese officials at their embassy in Bangkok, although it is not clear how the Chinese received his number. The harassment soon turned into outright threats.
In an e-mail to CPJ, Payen wrote:
I’ve just received clear evidence of intimidation (after numerous anonymous calls, and SMS bombardments) through the voice message of a Chinese staff [member] saying that they wanted my explanation on how I cheated a Chinese visa and why I reported the news in a distorted way. And if I kept on delaying and delaying our meeting, and if I didn’t meet them by tomorrow, I would have to take the responsibility.
As is often the case with attempts at censorship–and threatening a journalist is a crude form of just that–the actions of the Chinese diplomats have only drawn more attention to Payen’s film. As Quartz aptly noted, “Surely there must be a Chinese equivalent to the phrase, ‘closing the barn door after the horse has bolted’?” Meanwhile, we are privy to an interesting, and disturbing, new style of Chinese intimidation: one that extends beyond the country’s borders.