A reporter with the German TV station Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) was interviewing a young man in China about the newspaper censorship controversy, when, immediately after the interview, a team of plainclothes Chinese police picked up the man like a slab of meat and threw him into the back of an unmarked van, stunning the German camera crew.
China's plainclothes state security agents are well known, particularly in Beijing and near politically sensitive sites such as Tienanmen Square. And it's not uncommon for them to bundle perceived troublemakers, especially protesters or petitioners, into unmarked vans. But it is jarring to see police officers grabbing citizens so openly in front of a German TV news camera, given the Communist Party's sensitivity to Western scrutiny of its human rights record.
In the interview, which takes place in front of some uniformed police officers, the man expresses his public support for the Guangzhou-based newspaper Southern Weekly. The reform-minded paper is known to be more open than most Chinese media outlets, which tend to be tightly controlled by the Community Party. But when the paper's editors protested that a Communist Party official had rewritten a New Year's editorial calling for political reform into a propaganda piece for the party, the news set off a public backlash, with street demonstrations, Internet protests that blew up into a larger debate in China about media censorship.
The interview subject in the video, gave his name as Jiang Di, and apparently the state security officers found his opinions so threatening that they were willing to pack him up right in front of a camera crew taking video bound for TV and Internet screens.
Update, January 15: A follow-up story posted on ZDF's website says that Jiang was detained for nine hours for interrogation and then, according to their interview with him, released. Thanks to Beijing Cream's Anthony Tao for flagging that update. Tao also asked if this story could really be what it seemed. He wrote, "You have to admit it seems unlikely they’d kidnap a citizen for giving an interview… right?" BBC Asian bureau chief Jo Floto responded that plainclothes officers had kidnapped people in this way "several times last week."