Chinese Police Say They Arrested BBC Journalist at Protest to Protect Him From COVID

The BBC said it does not consider this a “credible explanation” for the arrest of Ed Lawrence, who was “beaten and kicked by the police” while covering the protest on Sunday night.
BBC journalist arrested and beaten by Chinese police during COVID protests.
BBC journalist Ed Lawrence was seen being handcuffed by police officers in Shanghai while covering the COVID protests that have broken out in several Chinese cities. Image: @Shanghaishang10 / Twitter

A BBC journalist in Shanghai was detained for hours on Sunday night while covering rare and angry protests that have broken out across China over the country’s controversial zero-COVID policy

One video on social media appeared to show the journalist, Ed Lawrence, being tackled by four uniformed police officers, as protesters at the scene chanted the phrase “release people.”

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“Call the consulate now,” Lawrence can be heard saying in another video as he was escorted away by police officers. 

In a statement, the BBC said Lawrence was “beaten and kicked” by the police during his arrest and that authorities gave no official reasons for his detention. 

Officials who released him said they had arrested him “for his own good in case he caught COVID from the crowd,” the BBC said, adding that the network didn’t consider it a “credible explanation.”

In a tweet on Monday, Lawrence expressed his appreciation for the messages of concern he received about his arrest, adding that at least one local national who tried to stop the police from hitting him was also arrested.

Outside Shanghai, large-scale protests have also taken place in cities such as Beijing, Wuhan, and Chengdu over the past couple of days. 

The wave of protests was triggered by a fire on Thursday at a residential building in Urumqi, a city in the far-western region of Xinjiang that has been under a lockdown since August.

Authorities said the fire killed 10 people and injured nine, but some protesters believe the toll is higher and suspect that COVID measures had delayed the rescue efforts, if not even prevented residents from escaping the burning building. The local government has denied these claims.

Under China’s zero-COVID policy, authorities have frequently used lockdown measures to control the spread of the virus, including by sealing the entrances to residential buildings and sending any positive cases to centralized quarantine.

China’s absolutist approach to the pandemic has helped keep its COVID deaths low, but mounting frustration with the strict control measures has put pressure on the Chinese government to change its course.

Follow Koh Ewe on Twitter and Instagram.