Chinese police knock-ed a British journalist to the ground and dragged him away from a pro-Tibet protest yesterday, in an incident that is sure to reopen the debate about interference with media freedom at the Beijing Olympics.
Police hauled John Ray, ITN's China correspondent, from a park less than a mile from the "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium to a nearby restaurant, where they threw his shoes in the corner and sat on his arms, shortly after foreign protesters unfurled a pro-Tibet banner. The reporter said after his release: "I wonder how this fits in with their solemn promise of free and unrestricted reporting... it was a wrestling match.
Ray, who is fully accredited to report in Beijing during the Games, said he was detained for about 20 minutes and his equipment bag was confiscated, despite repeated protestations in Chinese that he was a journalist. He was thrown into a police van and he had bruising on his hand from where a police officer stood on it, he said.
The pro-Tibetan independence group, Students for a Free Tibet, said two of its protesters who unfurled the banner were arrested while six other members were also detained for protesting nearby. They included six Americans, an Israeli-American and a Japanese national.
Last month, the Beijing Olympic organisers said they were introducing three "protest parks" where anyone who wanted to express their opinions could do so. However, the demonstrations require approval and any protests that might harm "national unity" and "national, social or collective interests" are forbidden.
Ji Sizun, 58, who describes himself as a grassroots legal activist from Fujian province, was arrested this week after he applied for a permit to hold a protest in one of the three designated protest zones. In his application, Mr Ji said the protest would call for greater participation of Chinese citizens in political processes, and denounce rampant official corruption.
When it was awarded the right to stage the Games in 2001, China pledged to allow foreign media to report just as they would anywhere in the world, but the government has been criticised for continuing to block reports on sensitive issues, such as Tibet and Xinjiang.
The British embassy expressed "strong concern" to the Chinese authorities about the incident involving Ray. Jonathan Watts, president of The Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) in Beijing, said: "The FCC is appalled by this treatment of an accredited journalist within half-a-mile of the main Olympic stadium. We call on the authorities to return his equipment, to apologise and, if it is proved that a crime has been committed, to punish those responsible."
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