China's media keeps mouths shut about police brutality

August 03, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Japan, through diplomatic channels, is demanding an explanation from China for police brutality that left an Asahi Shimbun reporter badly injured while covering a demonstration in an eastern coastal province.

The July 28 incident occurred in the Qidong district of Nantong, Jiangsu province, while Shanghai-based correspondent Atsushi Okudera was photographing a crowd protesting environmental pollution.

Several demonstrators were also roughed up by uniformed police.

Although public security officials of Qidong and Nantong municipal government officials said on Aug. 2 they were viewing the incident with concern, no headway has been made in identifying the officer who beat Okudera.

The Japanese Consulate-General in Shanghai submitted a written request on Aug. 2 to the Nantong municipal government, asking that the incident be resolved.

The Japanese Embassy in Beijing has also expressed concern to the Chinese Foreign Ministry over the violence.

The beating left Okudera with swelling to the back of the head, as well as bruises on his back and arms. Doctors at a Shanghai hospital said he would need two weeks to recover from his injuries.

The Asahi Shimbun has obtained an account from a Qidong resident who saw the police turn on Okudera.

"One police officer destroyed the camera he had taken from Okudera by smashing it against the ground," the eyewitness said.

Residents were protesting a plan by the municipal government to construct a pipeline to Qidong, which lies along the coast, to discharge wastewater from an Oji Paper plant in Nantong. Oji Paper is a Japanese company.

Between 10 and 20 police officers struck and kicked local residents who had hurled plastic bottles at them.

Okudera was snapping away when officers grabbed his camera and press ID. Okudera had taken hundreds of digital photos by then of police attacking protesters.

Okudera later came across a police officer carrying his camera bag and equipment. The camera lens was missing and the police officer refused to return the camera.

Many of the police officers who were involved in the attack on local residents had removed the "police number" they are required to wear on the chest of their uniforms.

On July 28, Okudera submitted a report with the police about the injuries he received. At that time, police officers said it would be difficult to identify the colleague who attacked him without the police number.

On July 31, a Qidong resident contacted The Asahi Shimbun to say Okudera's press ID had been found at the scene of the police attack. The press ID was returned to Okudera.

Okudera is not the first foreign reporter to be beaten by Chinese law enforcement officials.

In August 2008, two Japanese reporters were beaten in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. They were in Kashgar covering a terrorist attack that left 16 police officers dead and 16 injured. One of the reporters suffered a cracked rib.

Between February and March 2011, a number of foreign journalists were attacked by undercover police and some were detained when they covered demonstrations that were linked with the "Jasmine revolution" pro-democracy movement.

Last May, several foreign reporters who visited the home in Shandong province of blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng were prevented from asking questions by thugs apparently hired by the local government.

Still, it is unusual for several uniformed police officers to not only attack a reporter, but to also seize the person's camera and press ID.

The Chinese micro-blogging service known as "weibo" had a number of postings about the attack on Okudera.

One said, "Do you now understand what the Chinese have to put up with?"

Another post said about Okudera, "Because you photographed a police officer beating a local resident, you helped local citizens by deflecting the attention of the police."

Typically, it is foreign media organizations, not domestic outlets, that report on police brutality toward ordinary citizens.

Global Times, a newspaper affiliated with the People's Daily, mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, ran a short article July 30 about Japanese media reports on the beating.

Other major Chinese media did not mention a word, nor report on the demonstration at a local government office.

Chinese media are especially sensitive about covering delicate issues in the leadup to a Communist Party National Congress this autumn that will bring in a new crop of leaders, not only at the very top of the party hierarchy in Beijing, but also at provincial levels.

It is not uncommon for leaders at local levels to squash reporting that might reflect badly on them or who fear that some impropriety might come to light.

A Chinese government source said that violence of any sort would not be tolerated, regardless of who carried out the attack.

At the same time, Chinese authorities place much greater importance on avoiding social unrest caused by foreign reporting.

As of Aug. 2, the Chinese Foreign Ministry had not issued a formal statement on the attack on Okudera.

On July 31, the International Federation of Journalists issued a statement in which it "condemned" the savage assault. The statement also criticized "the failure of Chinese authorities to report on and properly investigate these assaults. Chinese authorities' inaction in response to these attacks effectively condones the assault and intimidation of journalists."

(This article was written by Atsushi Okudera in Shanghai and Nobuyoshi Sakajiri in Beijing.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Special police officers wearing black uniforms assault a resident in Qidong, Jiangsu province, on July 28. Regular police officers in blue uniforms can be seen in the background. (Provided by eyewitness)

Special police officers wearing black uniforms assault a resident in Qidong, Jiangsu province, on July 28. Regular police officers in blue uniforms can be seen in the background. (Provided by eyewitness)

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  • Special police officers wearing black uniforms assault a resident in Qidong, Jiangsu province, on July 28. Regular police officers in blue uniforms can be seen in the background. (Provided by eyewitness)
  • Atsushi Okudera takes a photo of the July 28 protest in Qidong, Jiangsu province. Immediately after this photo was taken, Okudera was beaten by police officers. (Provided by eyewitness)
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