After the arrest and alleged assault of BBC journalist Ed Lawrence, the UK has summoned the Chinese ambassador to London. The foreign office called in Zheng Zeguang over Lawrence’s arrest in Shanghai, while he was covering the Covid-19 protests. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly called the alleged arrest and assault “deeply disturbing” while telling reporters that it is incredibly important to protect media freedom.
According to Al Jazeera, Cleverly says journalists should not fear retribution for doing their jobs.
“It’s incredibly important that journalists can go about their business unmolested and without fear of attack.”
Lawrence was arrested and detained by police on Sunday evening while filming protests against the country’s strict Covid regulations. The BBC then said that police assaulted him before he was released hours later.
But, an unnamed Chinese embassy spokesperson defended the decision to arrest Lawrence and noted Britain’s high rate of death during the Covid pandemic.
“The UK side is in no position to pass judgement on China’s Covid police or other internal affairs.”
Such an alleged assault on Lawrence comes just a month after a senior Chinese diplomat was summoned by Britain over his colleague’s alleged assault on a Hong Kong pro-democracy protester at the Chinese consulate in Manchester. The alleged assault was caught on video, but China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, shifted blame to the protester, saying that he illegally entered the consulate grounds.
“Violation of the peace and dignity of China’s overseas embassies and consulates will not be tolerated. The troublemakers illegally entered the Chinese Consulate-General in Manchester, endangering the security of the premises.”
He then said the UK must “earnestly fulfil its duties and take effective measures to step up protection of the premises and personnel of the Chinese embassy and consulates.”
But, a British government spokesman says the incident was “obviously deeply concerning,” and noted that it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the incident while an investigation was ongoing.
The protest reportedly was staged as China opened its five-yearly Communist Party Congress, in which President Xi Jinping was expected to get an unprecedented third term in power (which he did).
According to Hong Kong Free Press, British police say a group of men came out from the consulate during a peaceful demonstration and dragged one of the protesters inside the building and assaulted him. Such incidents have put political pressure on Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to crack down on China, but critics say his response to such incidents has been less than desirable.