Belgian VRT journalist Tom Van de Weghe, his cameraman and assistant were beaten up and robbed of tapes, phones and money as they attempted to report on HIV-Aids in Shangqiu County, Henan province.
Eight thugs pulled their van over, reached inside to unlock the doors, dragged the crew on to the road and punched them into submission.
“I thought they were going to kill us,” said Van de Weghe. “One of them gave me a heavy blow to the head. They acted like animals. It was terrifying.”
Earlier in the day, the reporters had been questioned by a policeman. Soon after, they were followed by two unmarked cars. After several hours, they were stopped again, surrounded and forced to hand over a tape. Locals said the thugs in this incident were Zhoukou and Gangshan county officials.
The journalists tried to return to the airport, but their van was pulled over a third time on a dark road, where the violent assault took place. The reporters were beaten until they handed over their tapes, identity cards and belongings.
The thugs stole 1800 yuan from Van de Weghe’s wallet as well as his tapes, mobile phone, camera and memory cards. Two days after the attack, he is still suffering from headaches caused by the blows.
A local man told the reporters the same thugs had earlier beaten Chinese journalists and Aids activists, including Li Dan. The locals said the thugs were officials working for Shuangmiao village and Shangqiu county. The leader of the gang was called Dong. Van de Weghe noted down their Shangqiu license plate number 66132.
VRT has lodged a protest at the Chinese embassy in Brussels, demanding compensation for the damages incurred; apologies to the journalist and his crew and to the VRT; and a guarantee that the VRT journalist can resume his work safely in accordance with international protocols and the principles of the freedom of press.