Australian journalists flee China fearing arrest | Daily News


 

Australian journalists flee China fearing arrest

ABC journalist Bill Birtles recounted a whirlwind week of political manoeuvering, and said ‘it’s a relief to be back in a country with genuine rule of law’.
ABC journalist Bill Birtles recounted a whirlwind week of political manoeuvering, and said ‘it’s a relief to be back in a country with genuine rule of law’.

Two Australian journalists fled China Tuesday under diplomatic protection, fearing arrest as political pawns in the rapidly worsening relationship between Canberra and Beijing.

Their dramatic overnight exit came following days of secret wrangling that had seen both men holed up in Australia’s diplomatic missions to escape the clutches of China’s feared security police.

Bill Birtles and Michael Smith had to consent to questioning before they were allowed to leave China, shepherded out of the country on a late-night flight by Australian diplomats.

Both men were quizzed about fellow Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who has been detained since last month. Beijing acknowledged Tuesday for the first time that she was being held on national security grounds -- a broad category that can include crimes resulting in lengthy prison sentences.

Birtles, who works for public broadcaster ABC, said Tuesday his “interrogation” in a hotel room had touched on Cheng’s case, but that he did not think that was its primary objective.

“I believe that the whole episode was really one more of harassment of the remaining Australian journalists, rather than a genuine effort to try and get anything useful for that case,” he told ABC.

China confirmed the two men had been questioned, but insisted the move had been legitimate. “As long as foreign journalists obey the law... they have no reason to worry,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in Beijing.

Several reporters for US media have had their visas revoked and been forced to leave the country -- what critics have interpreted as targeting of Western media outlets by the Communist Party.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said the two men’s ordeal marked “a significant escalation of an ongoing, sustained Chinese government assault on media freedoms”.

“Such actions by the Chinese government amount to appalling intimidatory tactics that threaten and seek to curtail the work of foreign journalists based in China, who now face the threat of arbitrary detention for simply doing their work.” The episode began almost a week ago, when police carried out synchronised midnight raids on Birtles’s home in Beijing and Smith’s in Shanghai -- where he was correspondent for the Australian Financial Review.

Both were barred from leaving the country and told they would face questioning.

“I felt like I suddenly, unintentionally, had become a pawn in some sort of diplomatic tussle,” said Birtles.

Fearful of interrogation and arbitrary arrest, they fled to their closest Australian diplomatic missions until agreeing to answer Ministry of State Security questions in return for safe passage home. (AFP)

 


Visit Kapruka.com Sri Lanka's Largest online shop. Over 125,000 unique categories such as Fresh Flowers, Cakes, Food, Jewllery, Childrens Toys and other Sri Lankan e-commerce categories. Low delivery cost to most cities here and free delivery in Colombo.