Chinese authorities are investigating an attack in which assailants allegedly pulled a Belgian television crew from their vehicle, beat them and took their notes and money, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.
The attack on Thursday came just over a month after China announced that relaxed reporting regulations for foreign media put in place for the Olympics would become permanent. Journalists are now supposed to be able to travel and report freely in most areas of China, but certain topics remain touchy, especially with local officials.
“Eight thugs pulled their van over, reached inside to unlock the doors, dragged the crew on to the road and punched them into submission,” according to an account of the attack circulated by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China. It was the second time the crew had been stopped that day, the report said.
Such attacks are often believed to have been carried out on orders from local officials seeking to suppress negative reporting in their areas.
The two-person crew from Flemish public broadcaster VRT, accompanied by an assistant, was reporting on AIDS victims in central Henan Province for World AIDS Day, which was on Monday.
Henan has been highly sensitive to the AIDS issue since the virus that causes the disease spread widely there in the 1990s through unhygienic blood-buying rings, which allegedly operated with official protection. Officials there have been accused in the past of abusing AIDS victims and advocates.
The attack has drawn protests from the International Federation of Journalists and from Belgian authorities. The Belgian ambassador to China was scheduled to meet with China’s vice minister of foreign affairs about the incident Tuesday afternoon, one of the journalists in the attack said.
An official from the Foreign Ministry spokesman’s office said that the “relevant department” in Henan was investigating.
However, the head of the publicity department of Henan’s Public Security Bureau, who like many Chinese bureaucrats would give only his surname, Li, said officials there were not aware of the case.
“We never had a case where foreign reporters were beaten before,” Li said by phone.
VRT journalist Tom Van de Weghe, reached by phone yesterday afternoon, said he hadn’t heard of the investigation.