Protesters and police are seen in Shanghai, China, on November 27, 2022. Authorities detained at least two foreign journalists, and beat one, covering protests in the city. (AFP/Hector Retamal)

Shanghai police detain foreign journalists covering anti-lockdown protests, beat BBC correspondent Edward Lawrence

Taipei, November 28, 2022 — Chinese authorities must immediately stop harassing and detaining journalists and ensure the safety of reporters covering protests against the country’s COVID-19 restrictions, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.  

On Sunday, police in Shanghai assaulted Edward Lawrence, a journalist for British public broadcaster BBC, while he was covering a protest, and detained him for several hours, according to news reports, a statement by his employer, and video of the incident shared on social media.

About four police officers pushed Lawrence to the ground, beat and kicked him, and then arrested him, according to those sources. After authorities later released Lawrence, officials claimed that police had taken him into custody “for his own good in case he caught COVID from the crowd” of protesters, that BBC statement said.

Separately on Sunday evening, Shanghai police detained Michael Peuker, China correspondent for Swiss public broadcaster Radio Télévision Suisse’s news platform RTS Info, for about an hour, according to the outlet and Peuker, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

After Peuker finished a live broadcast from a protest site, police detained him and his camera operator, brought them to RTS Info’s office, and confiscated their video equipment, according to those sources. Peuker told CPJ that the police officers then received a call from “their boss” who ordered their release and later returned their equipment.

“The detentions of BBC journalist Edward Lawrence and RTS Info correspondent Michael Peuker are just the latest examples of Chinese authorities’ inexcusable efforts to stifle the work of the press,” said Iris Hsu, CPJ’s China representative. “Chinese authorities must ensure that members of the press are able to report freely, and stop harassing and attacking reporters covering protests.”

In a statement emailed to CPJ, RTS Info quoted Peuker as saying that he was not afraid during his detention but was “very annoyed” by the worsening atmosphere for the press in China.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said in a statement that journalists from “multiple outlets” had been physically harassed by police while covering protests in Shanghai and Beijing, and urged authorities to protect journalists’ safety. CPJ could not immediately verify other incidents of harassment.

Demonstrations have erupted in Chinese cities since Friday over the government’s stringent COVID-19 policies, which have been blamed for interfering with firefighters’ efforts to rescue the victims of a deadly recent fire in an apartment building in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, according to news reports.

CPJ messaged the Shanghai Public Security Bureau for comment through its website, but did not immediately receive any response.