BEIJING (AFP) — Chinese police roughed up a British TV crew and stopped them covering a pro-Tibet protest, witnesses said, in the latest case of interference with media freedom at the Beijing Olympic Games.
Uniformed police pounced on John Ray, China correspondent for Independent Television News (ITN), shortly after protesters unfurled a pro-Tibet banner near the main Olympic complex, witnesses and the reporter said.
His cameraman Ben England was also manhandled and prevented from filming the protest, they said.
Pro-Tibetan independence group Students for a Free Tibet said two protesters who unfurled the banner were arrested while six other members of the group were also detained for protesting nearby.
Ray said he was wrestled to the ground and dragged into a nearby restaurant where he was forcibly held down by uniformed and plainclothes officers who also stamped on his hands.
Ray, who is fully accredited to report in Beijing during the Olympic Games, said he was detained for around 20 minutes and his equipment bag was confiscated.
"This was an assault in my mind, I am incredibly angry about this," Ray told AFP minutes after he was released.
His shoes were scuffed, the back of his trousers and shirt were covered in grime and he displayed some bruising on his hand.
He said he told the officers in Chinese that he was a journalist during the incident, during which he was also asked for his views on Tibetan independence.
"I am just wondering where this fits in with China's solemn undertaking to allow us to report freely during the Olympics," he said.
The British embassy said it had expressed "strong concern" to the Chinese authorities while the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) in Beijing demanded that police apologise to the ITN reporter.
"The FCC is appalled by this treatment of an accredited journalists within half a mile of the main Olympic stadium," said Club president Jonathan Watts.
Beijing police would not comment on the incident, while the Beijing Olympic organising committee told AFP that it was investigating the case.
Students for a Free Tibet, who have organised a number of protests around Olympic venues over the past week, said their activists detained were six Americans, an Israeli-American and a Japanese national.
China has repeatedly pledged to allow foreign media broad freedoms to do their work during the Games, but it has come under criticism for continuing to stop them from reporting on sensitive issues.
Since the Games opened on Friday the FCC said that it had recorded five separate incidents in which journalists had been harassed and prevented from working by police including one in central Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
In a separate incident in northwest China, police were forced to apologise after two Japanese journalists were forcibly detained and kicked while covering the aftermath of a violent attack blamed on Muslim separatists.
Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang Wednesday expressed concern about the incident in the town of Kashgar, but put the blame on local officials.
Prior to last week's opening ceremony thousands of journalists from overseas protested after finding Internet access at the main Olympic media centre was censored.
After a storm of criticism, some previously censored sites were made accessible for the first time, such as human rights group Amnesty International.
However others remained blocked, notably those relating to issues considered sensitive by the Chinese government such as Tibet and Falun Gong, a Buddhist inspired sect that is banned in China.
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