Edward Lawrence, a journalist at the BBC, was arrested by police in Shanghai at the scene of protests on Sunday night, according to the BBC and as captured on what appears to be mobile phone footage of the arrest.
While he has since been released, a BBC spokesperson has expressed extreme concern about his treatment, saying he was “beaten and kicked by the police.”
Protests have erupted across China in a rare show of dissent against the ruling Communist Party, sparked by anger over the country’s increasingly costly zero-Covid policy.
Among the thousands of protesters, hundreds have even called for the removal of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who for nearly three years has overseen a strategy of mass-testing, brute-force lockdowns, enforced quarantine and digital tracking that has come at a devastating human and economic cost.
The BBC statement reads in full: “The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai. 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.”
The statement continues, “It is very worrying that one of our journalists was attacked in this way whilst carrying out his duties. 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. We do not consider this a credible explanation.”
UK expresses ‘considerable concern’
At a regular press briefing Monday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian acknowledged the detention of Lawrence, but claimed that he did not identify himself as a journalist before he was led away by police.
“China always welcomes foreign journalists to report in the country in accordance with the law and has provided lots of assistance,” Zhao said. “At the same time, foreign journalists should comply with Chinese regulations when they are reporting in China.”
Public protest is exceedingly rare in China, where the Communist Party has tightened its grip on all aspects of life, launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent, wiped out much of civil society and built a high-tech surveillance state.
At least two clips of the arrest were posted online by a Twitter user who says they witnessed the scene. One clip, filmed from above, shows at least four police officers standing over a handcuffed man whose face is obscured.
In a second clip of a man wearing the same clothing, Lawrence’s face is clearly identifiable, as police quickly led him away, and then shouts, “Call the consulate now.”
The witness who shared the videos said they saw the journalist get “sieged and dragged to the ground by several cops.”
It is unclear what happened in the lead-up to Lawrence’s arrest. The video available online begins with his arrest and does not show what happened prior.
In an interview with Sky News on Monday, the UK government called Lawrence’s arrest a “considerable concern.”
“There can be absolutely no excuse whatsoever for a journalist that was simply covering the process going on for being beaten by police,” said UK Business Secretary Grant Shapps.
Swiss TV journalist detained
Lawrence wasn’t the only foreign journalist detained by Chinese police on Sunday. Michael Peuker, China correspondent for Swiss broadcaster RTS, was also briefly detained while reporting live from a protest in Shanghai, RTS said.
“The tension is at its peak here. As a proof, I am now surrounded by three police officers, I will be taken to the police station after this live hit,” Peuker said on air. “I will leave you now and go to the police station,” he added.
Peuker said on Twitter that he was released moments later.
Wayne Chang in Hong Kong, Eve Brennan in London, Xiaofei Xu in Paris and CNN’s Beijing Bureau contributed to this report.