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Secret Chinese police detain US citizen journalist, make cell phone inoperable

Chinese police standing in Beijing. (Beijing Patrol/Flickr)
August 15, 2018

In another anti-free speech measure by the Communist country, Chinese authorities detained two reporters this week.

A journalist and a correspondent for Voice of America (VOA) News’ Chinese branch were detained by Chinese authorities while attempting to interview a retired professor, VOA News reported Monday.

The retired Chinese professor, Sun Wenguang, was escorted away by police two weeks ago during a live televised interview with VOA.

Reporters Yibing Feng — who is a U.S. citizen and resident of Virginia — and Allen Ai attempted a second interview this week with the professor, speaking to him briefly through his closed apartment door on the university campus. Sun provided details of his police detention two weeks earlier, and thanked VOA for providing him the platform for free speech.

However, the interview was interrupted by secret police who were present in the apartment building. Six officers in plain clothes and uniforms intervened, ordering the reporters to leave the premises.

Although the reporters complied with the orders, they were followed by police and detained outside the building. They were taken separately into custody by police, according to a statement by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Separate vehicles transported them to an undisclosed location on the campus. The authorities detaining the VOA reporters referred to themselves as “contract security guards.”

“I was just released from the hands of secret police in Jinan, with all my cell phones [disabled] by them,” Feng said in an email to his editor. “They separated Allen from me during these hours.”

The two reporters were detained for a total of six hours, with several hours spent in a vehicle. Allen said that two unidentified men detained him for hours in a car before releasing him outside Jinan. The men briefly confiscated Allen’s electronic devices, then scanning and downloading their data before releasing him.

VOA director Amanda Bennett said: “It is outrageous that two journalists have been detained for nothing more than doing their jobs.”

“It’s the job of journalist to find out what’s going on, to talk to people in the news, and that is all that they were doing,” she added.

Just before the reporters were detained, Sun spoke on the lack of free speech in the media.

“Authorities have blocked and suppressed press freedom. Chinese authorities have a practice of trade barrier and press barrier. Why can Chinese reporters act as journalists in the U.S. freely while U.S. reporters cannot do normal journalistic work in China?” he said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State condemned the act, saying: “We are deeply concerned about reports of the detention of a VOA correspondent and contractor, and of interviewee Professor Sun Wenguang by Chinese security officials.”

“We strongly condemn China’s worsening abuse of human rights, in particular the suppression of the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly and the unlawful detention of activists, lawyers, journalists, and civil-society leaders seeking to defend those freedoms,” the spokesperson added.

The detentions show Chinese President Xi Jinping’s increasing intolerance of speech that criticizes the Chinse government.

Chinese authorities have refused requests for comments on the detention of the two reporters, or the professor.