The BBC reported that Chinese police had assaulted one of its reporters who was covering a protest in Shanghai's commercial center and had held him for many hours. This news drew criticism from the British government, which called the journalist's imprisonment "shocking."
In recent days, protesters in Shanghai, Beijing, and other cities have taken to the streets to show their opposition to the harsh COVID-19 regulations. This is the first instance of civil disobedience since leader Xi Jinping came to power. A spokesperson for the foreign ministry in Beijing claimed that the BBC's statement did not accurately depict the circumstances. "According to our understanding, the BBC's statement is not true," spokesperson Zhao Lijian 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," the British public service broadcaster said in a statement. "He was held for several hours before being released. During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police. This happened while he was working as an accredited journalist."
"Instead of listening to their people's protests, the Chinese government has chosen to crack down further, including by assaulting a BBC journalist," British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said. "The media - and our parliamentarians - must be able to highlight these issues without sanction, including calling out abuses in Xinjiang - and the curtailment of freedom in Hong Kong."
China refuted the story and insisted that the journalist had not claimed to be a reporter. When covering news events in China, foreign reporters are obliged to have official identification cards from the government proving that they are accredited media. His spokesperson had earlier described the BBC journalist's detention as "shocking and unacceptable."
The spokesperson said that while continuing to seek positive relations with Beijing on other topics, Britain would express concerns to China on how Beijing has handled protests. The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China expressed that it was "very disappointed and frustrated at the increasing barriers placed on foreign journalists operating in China and the aggression displayed towards them by police".
Prior to the Chinese ministry's response, the BBC stated that it had not been provided with a plausible justification for Lawrence's imprisonment. "We have had no official explanation or apology from the Chinese authorities, beyond a claim by the officials who later released him that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught COVID-19 from the crowd," it said.