LONDON: Britain’s government on Monday condemned Chinese police after the BBC said one of its journalists was arrested and beaten while covering Covid protests in Shanghai, the latest incident to test relations between the countries.
Ed Lawrence, working in China as an accredited journalist, was detained for several hours, during which he was assaulted and kicked by police, according to the UK broadcaster.
After his release, Lawrence tweeted on Monday to thank his followers, adding he believed “at least one local national was arrested after trying to stop the police from beating me.”
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly called the incident “deeply disturbing.”
“Media freedom and freedom to protest must be respected. No country is exempt,” he tweeted.
“Journalists must be able to do their job without intimidation.”
The arrest came as new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak prepared to deliver his first major speech on foreign policy later on Monday, in which he will argue the need to counter UK competitors “not with grand rhetoric but with robust pragmatism.”
Some critics took that to mean a softer line on countries such as China, whose diplomats in Manchester earned a relatively mild UK government rebuke after they recently attacked a Hong Kong democracy protester.
Security minister Tom Tugendhat said Lawrence’s arrest was “an echo of the repression the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is attempting elsewhere.”
“China’s attempts at state repression here in the UK remind us of the urgent need to defend our own freedoms,” he said, after reports emerged of China operating undeclared police outposts in foreign countries including Britain.
Hundreds of people took to the streets in China’s major cities on Sunday in a rare outpouring of public anger against the state over its zero-Covid policy.
The BBC said it was “extremely concerned” after Lawrence was filmed being hauled away at one of the protests in Shanghai.
“We have had no official explanation or apology from the Chinese authorities, beyond a claim by the officials who later released him that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught Covid from the crowd,” it said.
“We do not consider this a credible explanation.”
China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Lawrence had not identified himself as a journalist.
“Based on what we learned from relevant Shanghai authorities, he did not identify himself as a journalist and didn’t voluntarily present his press credentials,” foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
He told international media to “follow Chinese laws and regulations while in China.”
But the campaign group Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) also condemned Lawrence’s arrest and alleged assault.
“RSF stands with all those practicing fact-based journalism in China & calls on regime to respect their right to report on protests,” it tweeted.