Downing Street condemns ‘shocking and unacceptable’ arrest of journalist in China

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Downing Street Condemns ‘Shocking And Unacceptable’ Arrest Of Journalist In China Downing Street Condemns ‘Shocking And Unacceptable’ Arrest Of Journalist In China
China protests, © AP/Press Association Images
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By Amy Gibbons and Sophie Wingate, PA Political Staff

Downing Street has condemned the “shocking and unacceptable” arrest of a BBC journalist covering Covid protests in China.

The UK has warned Beijing there is “absolutely no excuse” for reporters to be “beaten by the police” after the broadcaster claimed cameraman Edward Lawrence was “attacked” in Shanghai.

UK foreign secretary James Cleverly on Monday described the incident as “deeply disturbing”, while No 10 said journalists “must be able to do their jobs without fear of intimidation”.

Downing Street also urged the Chinese authorities to “respect those who decide to express their views about the current situation”, as citizens take to the streets to oppose the country’s draconian zero-Covid policy.

However, the British government said it would not seek to “conflate” its stance on the right to protest with its intention to build “constructive relationships” with China on other issues.

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James Cleverley described the incident as “deeply disturbing” (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Senior Tory MP Alicia Kearns, chairwoman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said the UK must work with Beijing on “lots of things”, but stressed it is crucial to “make clear our red lines”.

“We can’t just cut them off and not have a relationship with them – that is where the pragmatism comes in,” she told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.

“But we also have to be very cautious, and we have to protect our interests, and we have to make clear our red lines.

“Rishi promised that he would change China policy on day one, and we just haven’t seen that yet.”

The BBC said Mr Lawrence was “arrested and handcuffed” while covering demonstrations over the Covid restrictions, and then “beaten and kicked” by police.

 

The UK prime minister’s spokesman said: “The arrest of this journalist who was simply going about their work is shocking and unacceptable. Journalists must be able to do their jobs without fear of intimidation.”

Earlier, Cabinet minister Grant Shapps said there can be “absolutely no excuse whatsoever” for a reporter covering the protests in China to be “beaten by the police”.

The British business secretary also told LBC radio: “Freedom of press and freedom to report should be sacrosanct.”

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He said it was “unacceptable” for journalists to be “caught up and involved and indeed arrested” when they should be “fully entitled to cover things freely”.

Mr Cleverly tweeted: “Media freedom and freedom to protest must be respected. No country is exempt.

“The arrest of BBC journalist @EP_Lawrence China is deeply disturbing. Journalists must be able to do their job without intimidation.”

UK security minister Tom Tugendhat warned the arrest was “an echo of the repression the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is attempting elsewhere”.

“China’s attempts at state repression here in the UK remind us of the urgent need to defend our own freedoms,” he said on Twitter.

It was reported that China’s foreign ministry contested the BBC statement, claiming Mr Lawrence did not identify himself as a journalist.

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Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reportedly said the BBC’s account did not reflect what had happened.

A spokesperson for the broadcaster earlier said: “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 police.

“This happened while he was working as an accredited journalist.

“It is very worrying that one of our journalists was attacked in this way while carrying out his duties.”

Some footage on social media showed Mr Lawrence being dragged to the ground in handcuffs, while he was seen saying in another video: “Call the consulate now.”

The corporation claimed it had no official explanation or apology from Chinese authorities, adding officials said Mr Lawrence was arrested “for his own good” in case he caught Covid from the crowd.

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It said: “We do not consider this a credible explanation.”

Mr Lawrence later tweeted: “I understand at least one local national was arrested after trying to stop the police from beating me.”

The cameraman has been in contact with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) over the matter.

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