By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 14, 2008
BEIJING, Aug. 13 -- As Beijing police scrambled Wednesday afternoon to whisk away a group of Free Tibet protesters near the Olympic Park, they also detained and roughed up a British reporter attempting to cover the demonstration.
"I was shouting, 'I'm a British journalist,' " John Ray, a correspondent for Britain's Independent Television News, said later. But police dragged Ray into the back of a nearby restaurant and later bundled him into a police van.
"It was very forceful, very rough," he said.
The incident is the latest example of a foreign journalist being blocked from reporting in China, despite promises by the government and Olympic officials that the news media would be free to operate during the Games. Several journalists attempting to cover small protests around Beijing have been harassed, photographed 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 said. The officers pulled off Ray's shoes, and when he tried to struggle away, they kicked his legs, tripping him.
Five or six officers then "frog-marched" 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, 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 had been "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 organized by Students for a Free Tibet, which has succeeded in staging several small-scale demonstrations in Beijing, despite ultra-tight security.
Seven of the eight protesters were American, and one was a Tibetan Japanese woman who lives in Britain, according to Lhadon Tethong, director of Students for a Free Tibet. By Wednesday night, the Americans were en route to Los Angeles, but the whereabouts of the Tibetan Japanese woman were unknown.
Correspondent Maureen Fan contributed to this report.