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Delegates attend a plenary session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing in March 2018. Police in the city briefly detained a RFI reporter who was interviewing people about a vote on China's constitutional reform. (Reuters/Thomas Peter)

Chinese authorities briefly detain RFI correspondent in Beijing

March 16, 2018 10:55 AM ET

Police in Beijing detained French journalist Heike Schmidt, the China correspondent for the French Foreign Ministry-funded outlet, Radio France Internationale, for about an hour on March 9, 2018, and confiscated her tape recorder, according to the journalist's outlet.

In an email to CPJ, Schmidt said that while she and her assistant were conducting audio interviews near a shopping mall at Dongzhimen in Beijing, they noticed someone filming them with his smartphone. At the time, Schmidt was interviewing passersby about a vote on constitutional reform that would allow President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely, she said.

Schmidt said that while she was taking a break to eat in the shopping mall, around 10 police officers and mall security guards approached her and asked for her and her assistant's passport and identity card.

"They asked us if we had interviewed people in the street, if our questions concerned the constitutional reform and for which media we were working" Schmidt told CPJ. "We answered their questions politely but refused to let them listen to the tapes."

Police told Schmidt she should have asked a street committee for permission to interview and tried to confiscate the tape recorder, she said. Officers asked the reporter to follow them back to the police office, but she refused.

Three officials from the public security bureau arrived about 20 minutes later and took the reporter and her assistant into a meeting room inside the mall, according to Schmidt.

Schmidt said she and her assistant were questioned for about an hour by four police officers and three plain-clothes officers. "They asked us the same questions, confiscated the tape recorder, listened to the interviews, and said we had to delete them," she told CPJ.

"One of them tried to intimidate me [by] saying, 'At the end of the year, you will see me again for the visa application.' Another one told me, 'I know you already'," Schmidt said.

They were later released with their equipment under the condition that Schmidt promise not to report the detainment, she said. "The whole conversation was video-taped by the policemen," Schmidt said.

The correspondent added that on March 13, police came to her apartment building and told the compound management that she needed to present herself at the police station because of an alleged problem with her immigration papers.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The first paragraph of this case has been updated to correct the date of the incident.]

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