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  • If You Get Detained

    Keep your cool and avoid escalating the situation. Anger can be counterproductive. Be polite. But be a tough negotiator (see the Know Your Rights section). Enforcement of most rules in China is uneven. Often a foreign correspondent can negotiate his/her release without involving embassies or additional Chinese government departments. Here are some tactics that have helped others regain their freedom:

    –Show authorities the Olympic reporting regulations (see the Don’t Leave Home Without It section for a copy).

    –If requested, show your passport and press card.

    –You may be requested to show or delete visual images, or to allow a search of your computer/notebooks. Many reporters have successfully resisted these attempts.

    –If authorities ask to strip search you, they may be deterred if you refuse to cooperate; females have the right to be searched by another female.

    –Try to get names and contact details for the officers detaining you, and the name of the police station.

    –Phone the Foreign Ministry to complain; pass on the details of those holding you against your will.

    –Phone your embassy; pass on the details of those holding you against your will.

    –If it is late at night, and you cannot reach anybody else on the phone, consider calling government officials in your home country — especially if you fear for your personal safety.

    – Phone the FCCC President or head of the Professional Committee.

    Some authorities will not allow you to make a phone call. Others may allow you to use your mobile phone for awhile and then take it away. Prepare a “panic message” — detailing where you are, what you are covering and what should be done to help you get released — that can be sent to family/colleagues discretely from your pocket with the push of a button. Urge the person to call you so authorities know someone is concerned with your welfare, and ask that person to call the Foreign Ministry and your embassy if you cannot do it yourself. Ideally, include place names in Chinese characters as well as pinyin (Roman alphabet).

    Some embassy officers may be unfamiliar with such situations. They may advise that you not say anything or sign anything until you’ve seen a lawyer. Be aware that it may take a lawyer hours – or even days – to get to you. If you fear you will be formally charged with breaking a law, you should insist on the right to legal and consular advice. However if you’re being held by officials who apparently want to be rid of you but are unsure of how to bring that about, negotiation may accelerate your release.

    Before the new regulations were implemented, many authorities asked foreign correspondents to write a “self criticism” or confession of wrongdoing in return for their release. Detention generally lasted longer for those who refused. One alternative is to write a semantically convoluted apology that avoids acknowledging any legal culpability, such as this example shared by Jonathan Watts.

    Most of the time, the people detaining you are either local officials or people working for them. In such cases, you might be roughed up initially or subjected to verbal threats, but the risk of physical harm is less than it would be if the people holding you were emotional grassroots citizens. If you find yourself in a chaotic situation where you fear imminent harm at the hands of ordinary citizens, you might consider phoning local police, local/provincial Foreign Affairs officials, or the Foreign Ministry.

    Last but not least, remain conscious of the fact that Chinese nationals who helped you with your assignment — as assistants, translators, sources or even drivers — are at greater risk than you are. If you’re heading into a situation where detention is possible or likely, do not carry anything that might imperil your Chinese contacts, such as phone numbers and addresses, visual images, notes or computer files. Try to avoid becoming separated from your local assistant/translator if you’re using one. Do not ask Chinese nationals to lie on your behalf; that could simply make things worse for them.

    After your detention, please consider informing the FCCC of the details of your encounter. We are recording incidents of reporting interference in the hope that it will encourage authorities to put an end to such practices. Such information also assists colleagues who may be planning to report in locations where interference took place.