In the course of little more than a week, a handful of mainland-based foreign correspondents and/or Chinese acquaintances traveling with them were roughed up by locals wearing civilian clothes. In the first incident, Abel Segretinand of Radio France International and Leu Siew Ying of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post were jostled and hit by residents in plainclothes on Oct. 7, when the journalists attempted to report on ongoing unrest in Taishi village, Guangdong province.
The following day, The Guardian’s Shanghai-based correspondent Benjamin Joffe-Walt encountered an ugly crowd when he tried to enter Taishi in a taxi. Chinese activist Lu Banglie, 35, who’d been briefly detained once before in Taishi, was in the vehicle too. When the gathering of several dozen men saw Lu, they pulled him out of the car and beat him badly, according to eyewitnesses who believed the attackers were members of local mafia or so-called “black societies”.
The attackers also roughed up Joffe-Walt and smashed his mobile phone. Joffe-Walt, who was not badly hurt, and an ethnic Chinese translator were detained, interrogated, and then allowed to return home by local authorities. Later Lu said he was beaten until he lost consciousness; he did not sustain permanent injuries although he was traumatized by the assault.
In a third incident, on Oct. 13, Beniamino Natale of ANSA and Paolo Longo of RAI (Italian state TV) were traveling in a taxi in Tianjin with a Chinese cameraman. The group had just finished interviewing Tianjin mayor Dai Xianglong about his upcoming trip to Italy. The vehicle passed a number of local Chinese petitioning for redress of grievances outside the mayor’s office.
When the cameraman began filming the petitioners through the taxi’s window, he was assaulted by five or six toughs wearing civilian clothes. Only after considerable confusion, jostling, shouting and intervention by the European journalists did the attackers stop the beating and briefly flash what they said were police ID’s. The group was taken to a police station, then released after the arrival of an official from the mayor’s office.
The FCCC is protesting such incidents, which damage China’s international image and run contrary to international norms. Beatings by plainclothes attackers, especially in rural areas, also means that those responsible for the violence are unaccountable for their actions. This has led to accusations, raised by victims of the beatings, that the attackers are thugs hired by local authorities or police.