Update (May 26, 2010) Chinese authorities dispute the version of events outlined below, specifically the quoted remarks attributed to the police. They also dispute that the meeting was intimidating in nature.
Chinese authorities say the assistant was reprimanded for a violation of the reporting regulations that prohibit news assistants from conducting independent reporting activities.
(May 7, 2010) Police in Beijing called in for questioning and threatened the job of a Chinese news assistant working for German television, after he followed his employer’s direct instructions and filmed video at a migrant school slated for demolition in the capital, during which time the school’s principal was injured.
Journalist Pia Schrörs reported to the FCCC the following details of her assistant’s incident:
“My assistant and I were summoned to the PSB Exit-Entry Bureau on May 4 for interrogation. We were questioned independently. (My assistant) was questioned for 40 minutes; I was questioned round about 80 minutes.
They blamed my assistant for reporting independently from an incident in the afternoon on Friday, 30th April in Cuigezhuang Cun, Chaoyang District, Beijing. There is a spot where several private schools for children of migrant workers are located and those schools are supposed to be demolished. Our contact informed us of on Friday that demolition would begin. I was in Shanghai to cover the Expo, so I sent my assistant to the school. I told him to use a small video camera to pick up some impressions and information and to shoot some pictures.
When my assistant arrived the school principal was standing on the flat roof of the two-floor-building and was trying to delay the demolition. Some Chinese journalists were also present. A few minutes later, police arrived and registered all the reporters. The journalists were sent away back 200 meters, behind a line of police cars. From that distance they saw the principal suddenly fall from the roof. It was not clear how that happened. We heard later the principal suffered head injuries and a broken leg. He is in hospital.
During our May 4 interrogations, my assistant was threatened and intimidated. An official told him he will lose his job and will never again work for any media in China if he doesn’t confess that he had done something wrong. The officer said: “I can save you and I can destroy you.” My assistant was ordered to sign a confession, to which he added that he did nothing wrong and was working as instructed.
While I was interrogated the officials also said my assistant might lose his job because he was not cooperative. I had to sign a document in Chinese characters, which I couldn’t read. They translated it word-by-word, but I couldn’t confirm the translation. They added a statement saying: “We are working on a big report about resettlement,” even though I had not said this. They finally deleted this line.
As I mentioned, they claim the problem as that my assistant engaged in “independent reporting.” But: Every step he made was ordered and authorized by me. My assistant had been told at a seminar for journalists’ assistants of the Diplomatic Services Bureau last year that he is allowed to shoot, collect materials and do researches. He is just not allowed to publish by himself.
I then brought up the Beijing Auto Fair. I told the interrogators there were a lot of Chinese news assistants working there on their own. I asked why they were not detained and one official replied it is due to the sensitivity of the subject.
On May 7, my assistant met with the DSB. They told him it was the first time he had broken the rules and because he is inexperienced with this kind of situation, they will not withdraw his work license. But they claimed that they were generally able to do so and appealed to him to “learn something from this.”
Furthermore they said if there are similar orders by his agency in future and he was unclear about their legality, he should consult the DSB. They said topics like June 4th, democracy movements and human rights were examples of sensitive topics.
Generally the meeting took place in a friendly atmosphere.”