China says BBC reporter arrested in protest did not identify himself as a journalist

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China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that a BBC reporter did not identify himself as a journalist, after the BBC said he was detained by police during protest coverage in Shanghai.

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Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said they had noted the BBC statement about the incident, but it did not reflect what had happened.

The BBC said on Sunday Chinese police assaulted one of its journalists covering a protest in Shanghai and detained him for several hours, but China disputed the account and said he had not identified himself as a reporter.

“The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai,” a spokesperson for the British public service broadcaster said in a statement.

“He was held for several hours before being released. During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police. This happened while he was working as an accredited journalist.”

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the BBC’s statement did not reflect what had happened, and that he did not identify himself as a reporter or show his press credentials.

“According to our understanding, the BBC’s statement is not true. According to authorities in Shanghai the journalist in question did not reveal his journalist identity at the time, he did not openly show his foreign press card,” Zhao said.

“When the incident happened, law enforcement personnel asked people to leave, and when certain people did not cooperate they were taken away from the scene.”

Foreign reporters in China are required to carry a government-issued card identifying themselves as accredited journalists when covering news events.

Shanghai is one of a number of Chinese cities that have seen protests over stringent COVID restrictions, which flared in recent days following a deadly fire in the country's far west.

Footage on social media showed a man whom other journalists identified as Lawrence being arrested by men in police uniforms.

The BBC, in its statement before the Chinese ministry comment, said it had not been given a credible explanation for Lawrence’s detention.

“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,” the BBC said.

Journalists must be able to report freely, said Britain’s business minister Grant Shapps.

“What is unacceptable, of course, is for journalists who should be fully entitled to cover things freely to be caught up and involved and indeed, arrested, and I know that that will be causing concern at the foreign office and elsewhere this morning,” he told LBC Radio.

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