Thursday, August 14, 2008

I like the name of this guy

Chinese police dragged away and roughed up a British journalist this morning as he was reporting on a protest by a group of foreigners demanding freedom for Tibet.

John Ray, the China correspondent for Independent Television News (ITN), was grabbed by police and forced to the ground before being bundled into a van. He was dragged along the ground, spreadeagled, his hands stamped on. Then his shoes were ripped off, apparently to try to prevent him from escaping.

Police took barely a minute to detain the protesters from Students for a Free Tibet. Two members of the activist group who waved a 'Free Tibet' banner from a bridge outside the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park near the Bird's Nest stadium were detained before they could even unfurl the banned Tibetan Snow Lion flag.

Another six members who handcuffed themselves to each other and to bicycles at the front gate of the park were also swiftly rounded up and taken away by police. They were holding up yellow banners that read 'Free Tibet', witnesses said. They did not have time to unfurl the Tibetan flag before police pounced and halted their demonstration.

Police cordoned off a gravel area in front of the park around a number of thatched stone buildings containing a refreshments stand and a number of souvenir shops. Another van pulled up beneath a nearby road bridge disgorging further policemen.

The group has tried to stage several protests coinciding with the Olympics in Beijing to publicise their demands for freedom for the deeply Buddhist Himalayan region where Tibetan monks and ordinary people irked by Chinese rule held demonstrations in early March.

China is particularly sensitive to any attempts to demand independence for Tibet, especially since a riot in early March in Lhasa when angry Tibetans ramapaged through the streets, setting fire to shops and offices and killing some 22 people, mostly ethnic Han Chinese.

Police usually swiftly deport any foreign activists who try to raise the issue of Tibet. Several have already been expelled in the last week.

However, such heavy-handed treatment of foreign journalists is relatively unusual in China - especially in Beijing.

A Chinese pedestrian, who witnessed the treatment of Mr Ray, told The Times: "What I saw is the security guards were very rude to the reporters. They pushed them. I heard orders being shouted by the officers. 'Just use your hands,' they said. They said 'Get to the reporters and cover their camera lenses'. As a Chinese person I feel bad."

The guards made attempts to cover the lens of Times photograther David Bebber as one of the protesters was driven away. She had come out of the small thatched security hut at the end of the row of shops and made a T sign before she was put into a car and driven away.

Mr Ray said police held him for about half an hour. They pulled him into a nearby restaurant, startling lunchtime diners, sat him down on a sofa and held his arms down. "They made 'T'signs and one of them asked me for my views on Tibet. I said I was a journalist and had no views on Tibet," he said.

He said police would not allow him to put his hands in his pockets so that he could show them his official accreditation papers. He said he had been shaken by his treatment at the hands of the police but had not been hurt.

However, the incident raised doubts about China's willingness to allow free coverage of the Games. Mr Ray said:"I wonder how this fits in with their solemn promise to allow free and unrestricted reporting during the Olympics.?"

Mr Ray noticed a yellow banner was tossed into the van after him and the police told his Chinese assistant that he had tried to display a pro-Tibet banner. He said: "I did not at any time try to unfurl a banner and I have never possessed any banner or protest material. I was there simply to report on a demonstration not to take part in it in any way."

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said: "We are appalled at this treatment of an accredited journalist within half a mile of the Olympic Park. We call on the government to apologise for his treatment."

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