Beijing Police Detain, Rough Up Journalist
As Beijing police were scrambling this afternoon to whisk away the latest group of Free Tibet protesters near the Olympic Park, they also detained and roughed up a British journalist attempting to cover the demonstration.
"I was shouting, 'I'm a British journalist," said John Ray, a correspondent for Britain's Independent Television News. Police weren't listening as they dragged Ray into the back of a nearby restaurant to get him out of the view of a crowd of passersby and later bundled him into a police van. "It was very forceful, very rough," Ray said later.
The incident is the latest example of a foreign journalist being blocked from reporting in China, despite government and Olympic official promises the media would be free to operate in the country during the Games. Several journalists attempting to cover small protests that have been staged around the city have been harassed, photographed by plainclothes officers and manhandled.
Ray's Olympic credentials were in his pocket, but he could not reach them because police had pinned his arms behind him, "one guy holding each arm," he described. The officers pulled off Ray's shoes and, when his captors briefly relaxed their grip on his arms and Ray tried to struggle away, they kicked his legs to trip him up, the floor already slippery in his socks.
"I kept asking why they were doing this," Ray said.
Five or six officers then "frogmarched" Ray to a police van, he said, and pushed him in, throwing in a yellow cloth behind him before they slammed the doors. His hands now free, Ray fished out his Olympic credentials from his pocket. "One officer asked me in English what were my views of Tibet," Ray said. "I told him I was a journalist and didn't have any views."
He showed the officer his credentials and, after about 20 minutes, Ray was released. "One of our Chinese staff asked why they arrested me and an officer said, 'Didn't you see? He tried to unfurl that banner,'" pointing to the yellow cloth they had thrown into the van.
"That is categorically untrue," Ray said. "I was there merely to report, not to take part in anything. I didn't have a banner. I didn't have a t-shirt. I was wearing pretty standard foreign correspondent garb."
The information office of the Beijing Public Security Bureau did not respond to questions about Ray's detention. It instead released a statement about the protest, saying eight foreigners who were "conducting activities against Chinese law" were stopped by police on patrol. It said police would cancel their tourist visas and accompany them until they left the country.
The protest was the latest action organized by Students for a Free Tibet, which has succeeded in staging a number of small-scale demonstrations in Beijing, despite ultra-tight security. Two activists unfurled a "Free Tibet" banner on a pedestrian overpass near the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park, while five other activists blockaded the entrance to the park by chaining themselves to a line of bicycles.
"The Chinese government is actively waging an Olympics propaganda campaign to showcase Tibet as legitimately theirs and Tibetans as happy under Chinese rule, but the reality is much different," said Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet. "While Tibetan song and dance is on display in Beijing, in Tibet, our culture is under siege and our people are being forcibly kept from speaking out about their repression at the hands of the Chinese authorities."
Doug Herman, a Tibet activist who witnessed the protest, said security officials immediately surrounded and handcuffed the two protesters on the bridge. The activists chained to the bicycles were able to continue their demonstration for about 10 minutes before police vans raced to the scene and pulled them away. Herman said he did not witness how the police were able to separate the protesters from the bicycles because he and other onlookers moved away quickly because the police began photographing everyone in the crowd and detained at least three people who had not been involved in the protest.
Seven of the eight protesters were American and one was a Tibetan-Japanese woman who lives in the U.K. Tethong said she had not heard from any of the protesters and their whereabouts are unknown.
Washington Post correspondent Maureen Fan contributed to this post.
August 13, 2008; 8:30 AM ET
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