Foreign correspondents in China are suffering harassment and death threats, both online and offline, after reporting on flooding in the province of Henan that has claimed some 70 lives so far this month.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) has warned of incidents of reporters being targeted in the country.
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It said: “In one particularly alarming incident, Henan’s Communist Youth League asked its 1.6 million followers on Chinese social media site Weibo to report the whereabouts of BBC Shanghai reporter Robin Brant, after he became the target of viral online harassment.”
A German TV reporter on assignment for Deutsche Welle, Mathias Bölinger, and LA Times reporter Alice Su were surrounded by residents in Hanan capital Zengzhou after Bölinger was mistaken for BBC’s Brant.
“They kept pushing me, yelling that I was a bad guy and that I should stop smearing China. One guy tried to snatch my phone,” Bölinger tweeted.
“What I did not know at the time was that a manhunt was on after @robindbrant… There is a vicious campaign against the @BBCNews in nationalistic circles and state media.”
The targeting of Brant appear to follow his report on 12 deaths in a subway station in Zengzhou that were caused by the flooding.
The BBC has called for the Chinese government to take immediate action to stop attacks on journalists.
It said in a statement: “Over the weekend a social media post by a part of the Chinese Communist Party called on citizens to post comments on the whereabouts of a BBC team covering the floods in Henan Province.
“The public comments below the post included death threats against our team. Journalists from other media organisations reporting in Henan were subsequently confronted by an angry crowd looking for the BBC team.
“There must be immediate action by the Chinese government to stop these attacks which continue to endanger foreign journalists.”
Brant, Bölinger and Su were not the only journalists to face harassment. According to the FCCC, Al Jazeera’s English crew were followed and filmed while reporting outside Zhengzhou metro station.
The Associated Press were reported to the police while filming in a public area and hostile residents forced AFP News Agency to delete footage.
The FCCC said: “The FCCC is disappointed and dismayed at the growing hostility against foreign media in China, a sentiment underpinned by rising Chinese nationalism sometimes directly encouraged by Chinese officials and official entities.
“The censorship of foreign media in China has contributed to a one-sided view of our work in China.”
It added: “The FCCC is especially alarmed at the threats levied against our Chinese colleagues. Online, critics have falsely accused them of espionage and treason and sent them threatening messages – simply because of their valuable work for foreign media organizations.
“The FCCC calls on the Chinese government to uphold its promise to allow foreign journalists unfettered access to report in China’s regions and to maintain its responsibility to protect people’s safety.”
Picture: Twitter/ @mare_porter