Tania Branigan and Jonathan Watts
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Police in Beijing roughed up and detained a British journalist after he covered a Free Tibet protest close to the city’s main Olympic zone earlier today.
The incident appeared to be the clearest breach yet of the host nation’s promise of free media access during the Games.
John Ray, of Independent Television News, said he was pinned down by police, dragged along the ground and pushed into a police van.
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He said the authorities had also confiscated his equipment, pulled off his shoes, filmed him and accused him of trying to unfurl a Tibetan flag.
After his release some 30 minutes later, he said he was shaken but unharmed.
Beijing police said eight foreign Free Tibet protesters, including seven US citizens and a Japanese national, were arrested and their deportation was being supervised. They made no comment about Ray’s treatment.
Today’s incident, which came five days into the Games, is likely to embarrass the International Olympic Committee.
It is also awkward for the Beijing hosts, who are keen to keep the spotlight on the Olympics, which are being covered by more than 20,000 foreign journalists.
The incident happened when a number of activists from Students for a Free Tibet gathered at the entrance and on a bridge inside the Ethnic Minorities park, less than half a mile from the Bird’s Nest stadium.
A British passport holder, who escaped arrest, was also among the protesters.
When demonstrators tried to unfurl a Tibetan Snow Lion flag and banner on the bridge, a group of foreign journalists attempted to enter the park to film them.
Ray said he had fallen behind the main group, tussled with park guards and was then set upon by a four or five uniformed police. They pushed him to the ground, dragging him off to a nearby restaurant as he shouted: “I am a British journalist” to startled diners.
“My accreditation was in my pocket, but they wouldn’t let me get it out to show them,” he said after being released.
Police swung him on to a couch and pinned him down by sitting on his arms. When they relaxed, he tried to get away but was tripped up. He was then bundled into a police van and asked him what his views on Tibet were.
“I could see that they threw in behind me a yellow Tibetan flag or banner. I couldn’t see exactly what it was,” he said.
“They are claiming I tried to unfurl a Tibet banner. 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.”
Beijing police said the activists had been undertaking illegal activities.
This article was posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 11:03 am