This just out from the Foreign Correspondents Club:
Recently some foreign correspondents have been detained, harassed and physically roughed up — two incidents Tuesday alone. The FCCC board thought you’d want to hear about what happened. One of the journalists who experienced problems had not been aware of previous problems in the area; information such as this therefore might help you plan your travels.
Here are summaries of yesterday’s developments….
1) Barbara Luthi, correspondent for Swiss TV and her cameraman and local assistant were roughed up and detained for seven hours in Shengyou Village, Dingzhou County, Baoding City, Hebei Province on
20th November. One of their tapes was erased by the authorities. They had been interviewing villagers at the site of a land dispute in 2005 that resulted in a pitched battle that claimed six lives. “I have been interrogated by police before, but this was on a whole different scale,” said Luethi. “It is the first time I have been physically beaten.”
She said six cars drove up containing 10-12 men,who claimed to be local villagers. She believes they were plain
clothes police. Two of their cars did not have number plates. They were “quite brutal”, twisting her arm painfully, grabbing a camera and bags. In the struggle that followed Luethi fell to the ground.
The issue was eventually resolved when the men who detained them called local foreign affairs bureau, who were “ok”.
2) Mathias Braschler & Monika Fischer, Swiss photographers were detained for three hours in Wuchang, southern area of Wuhan on 20 November. They were being told about a property dispute.
Residents told them they had been beaten up and threatened. Braschler and Fischer were only talking to locals. They didn’t even have a chance to even take camera out of the car when uniformed police arrived.They were held in a police station off Heping road. There was no violence, no property confiscated. But they were held back when they tried to return to their car. It was the third time the couple have been detained during their travels around China. They said it was the most unpleasant experience.” They were much rougher in the way they treated us,” said Braschler.
“After two hours, we said we are just going to leave. Then the chief of police came. He was very unfriendly and threatened to detain us for12 hours if we didn’t go back to police station. He seriously threatened us. They said we couldn’t go until they checked us.Eventually someone from foreign affairs department of police came,said all fine, wanted to invite us to lunch to clarify. We said no.Then they got tough again. They said they want to check all our film, cameras and notebook. I said two options – either we are free so we can go. Or we are arrested so we call the swiss embassy. Eventually they let us go.”
It’s a nice place to live over on on this side of the tracks. But it’s still China, it’s still a thugocracy, and there are still huge holes in the legal system that let goons, plunderers and murderers off the hook. It really is getting better (I’ve been tracking these stories for years, and since 2003 there’s been a steady drop in the number), which means it’s maybe gone from zero to three on a scale of zero to ten. Or maybe it just means the media’s gotten complacent.
The Olympics are a stone’s throw away, and stories like this could turn what the government plans to be the most spectacular dog and pony show of all time into a global media roast of heavy-handed old-fashioned communist thuggery. Nine more months. Tick-tock, tick-tock….
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.