China: Journalist detained and harassed for reporting on restaurant attack

On June 12, reporter Zhang Weihan was detained and mistreated by police in Tangshan, in the Hebei province, while reporting on an assault at a local restaurant. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the journalists’ detainment and urges authorities to immediately cease the censorship of local media in China.

CCTV footage shows a group of men brutally attacking four women at restaurant in Tangshan, China on June 10. Credit: Twitter

Zhang, a reporter for state-run broadcaster Guizhou Radio, was at a local barbeque restaurant in the north-eastern city of Tangshan to conduct interviews about an assault incident on June 10, for the program Common People Watch.

CCTV footage outside the restaurant showed a group of men attacking four women after they rejected the men’s advances. Two women were admitted to hospital, and two others sustained injuries. The incident has reignited debates over gendered violence in China, as the local police have been accused of improperly investigating the assault.

In a video, Zhang said that police initially arrived at the restaurant due to an unrelated report of a man publicly urinating. However, after confiscating his identification card and searching his phone chat history, officers instead detained Zhang.

Zhang was held at Airport Road police station for eight hours and was eventually released at 9pm after being searched twice. Whilst detained, a police officer yelled at Zhang, held his neck with his elbow, pushed his head to the ground and forced him to kneel while he was searched.

When Zhang showed his press card, an officer reportedly called him “unqualified and ignorant.” Zhang said that he never received any explanation or documentation for his detainment.

Journalists arriving at Tangshan railway station to report on the recent attack, and the following public backlash, have also been interrogated and instructed not to leave their hotels or places of residence whilst in the city due to Covid-19 protocols. “It’s worth discussing whether it’s a normal disease prevention measure or an excuse to block outsiders, such as journalists, from entering the city, said Zhang.

Additionally, on June 16, the Hebei provincial state prosecutor, internet regulator, state-run journalists’ association and radio, film and television bureau adopted a national campaign targeting “fake news, fake media and fake reporters”. Local journalists believe that the campaign is a likely attempt to limit independent reportage of the restaurant attack and to control public expression.

According to the former editor of the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper, Cheng Yizhong, authorities will typically instruct local news organisations not to independently report on events and only publicise government-approved information, after an incident such as the restaurant attack in Tangshan.

The IFJ said, “Incidents of censorship, detainment, threats and harassment towards journalists and media workers are frequently documented by the IFJ in China. Legitimate and independent reportage must be allowed without intervention or legal restrictions from Chinese authorities. The IFJ condemns the detainment of journalist Zhang Weihan and calls for an investigation into his mistreatment while in police custody.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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