Globe and Mail journalist Nathan VanderKlippe was detained by police in civilian dress on the evening of 23 August while reporting in the autonomous northwestern region of Xinjiang and was held for several hours. The police temporarily seized his computer and examined the files on his camera’s memory card. After being released, he was followed for 200 km, until he reached his hotel.
Voice of America reporter Ye Bing and an assistant were detained by plainclothes police on 14 August while outside a court in the northeastern city of Tianjin where human rights defender Wu Gan was being tried behind closed doors. The police held them for four hours, temporarily seized their electronic apparatus and forced them to delete their photos.
“It is outrageous that duly accredited journalists are being detained while out reporting, even if only provisionally, just for doing their job,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia desk. “The temporary seizure of their equipment is also clearly designed to get access to their work files, which potentially puts their sources in great danger.”
Detainments of this kind are nothing new in China. When a car loaded with cans of gasoline smashed into the entrance to the Forbidden City on 28 October 2013, killing two people and injuring around 40, the police briefly detained BBC and AFP reporters who were trying to cover the incident.
One of the last bastions of uncensored news
The Chinese authorities often harass foreign reporters, but that does not stop them posing as the victims of their “attacks” when they publish reports contradicting the official propaganda. After recently tightening their grip on the national media and bloggers and reinforcing the “Great Firewall,” the authorities see foreign journalists as the last bastion of uncontrolled news reporting in China.
Ursula Gauthier, a French journalist who had been based in Beijing for six years reporting for the French news weekly L’Obs, was expelled in December 2015 after disputing Beijing’s attempt to draw a parallel between France’s counter-terrorism measures and what she called “the ruthless crushing of the Uyghur Muslim minority” in Xinjiang.
Before expelling her, the Chinese foreign ministry tried to get her to issue a public apology but she refused to submit to their blackmail.
The New York Times, which has been publishing a Chinese-language version online since 2012, has also been the target of harassment and website blocking. New York Times reporter Chris Buckley, who had been based in China since 2000, was expelled in December 2012 as a result of a story about former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s fortune.
In 2012, the authorities refused to renew the visa of Melissa Chan, a US journalist working for Al Jazeera , forcing the Qatari TV news channel to close its Beijing bureau. Globe and Mail Asia correspondent Marc McKinnon was expelled while reporting on Xinjiang in 2009.
Ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, China is currently holding more than 100 journalists and cyber-journalists.