The IPI global network strongly condemns the arrest and assault of British journalist Edward Lawrence and the detention of Swiss journalist Michael Peukur by Chinese authorities this week. We call on the Chinese authorities to respect the right of journalists to cover public protests and other matters of public interest and to ensure the safety of all journalists covering the ongoing demonstrations.
On November 27, Edward Lawrence, a correspondent for the BBC, was arrested and detained by the Shanghai police while covering the protests against China’s strident Covid measures. During his arrest, the police officers pushed Lawrence to the ground, and kicked and beat him, before taking him into custody. He was held for several hours, before being released. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, disputed this account, claiming that the police had been unaware that they were arresting a journalist as Lawrence had not identified himself as a reporter.
In a separate incident, Michael Peukur, a correspondent for the Swiss broadcaster RTS, was approached by the police after a live broadcast. He was briefly detained along with his cameraman and their equipment was confiscated. After a short negotiation, police released both from custody and returned their equipment.
Protests erupted across the country this weekend over the government’s restrictive zero-Covid policy, with some of the largest demonstrations occurring in Shanghai. Authorities have responded by deploying police to break up the demonstrations and by tightening media censorship.
Journalists in China already operate in one of the world’s most restrictive media environments, marked by heavy online censorship and strong government control over print and broadcast media. A 2020 report by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China found that media freedom has significantly deteriorated over the past few years, a process accelerated with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The report claimed that journalists face physical assault, government surveillance, and visa denials. These attacks have particularly affected foreign correspondents, who are a frequent target of harassment. Indeed, in 2020, over a dozen U.S. journalists working for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal were expelled from China by the authorities.
“In an information environment as heavily controlled as China’s, international journalists are critical sources of independent news and information about what is happening inside the country,” IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said. “The detention of BBC correspondent Edward Lawrence and RTS journalist Michael Peuker is an blatant attempt by authorities to muzzle the work of the foreign press, who are providing accurate and independent information about these demonstrations. The Chinese government should stop harassing foreign reporters and allow all journalists to do their work freely, safely, and without fear of retaliation.”