January 24, 2014 - Updated on January 20, 2016

TV crews manhandled outside courtroom during dissident’s trial

Human rights lawyer and cyber-dissident Xu Zhiyong is currently being tried by Beijing Intermediate Court No. 1 on a charge of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” With foreign reporters outside prevented from covering the trial, Xu has chosen silence as his method of defence. Xu is facing a possible five-year jail term in this trial, which received a great deal of police protection when it opened on 22 January. An impassioned campaigner against corruption, Xu was arrested last July along with other members of his newly created movement, the New Citizens Movement, which wants Chinese officials to be obliged to declare their assets. Although the other members of Xu’s movement were arrested for the same reason, they are to be tried separately, which violates Chinese law. Journalists were barred from the courtroom and were even prevented from filming outside when Xu’s trial opened. BBC, Sky News and CNN TV crews outside were all pushed away by uniformed and plainclothes policemen. CNN reporter David McKenzie reported on Twitter that he was manhandled and detained by police, who broke his crew’s camera. The video that the crew had managed to shoot was not, however, deleted. The video shows the degree of violence that the police were ready to use to prevent media coverage of the trial. After this incident, CNN’s signal was disconnected in China. Sky News reporter Mark Stone and BBC reporter Martin Patience were also roughed up by policemen. See their videos here : Mark Stone - Martin Patience Yang Maodong, a well-known dissident blogger who uses the pseudonym of Guo Feixiong, was himself arrested on charges of illegal assembly and disturbing public order on 8 August, after calling for Xu’s release. Yang, who has been jailed in the past, is still being held. China is ranked 173rd out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet.”