Edward Lawrence, a journalist with the BBC, was arrested by Shanghai police at the scene of the protests on Sunday night, according to the BBC, and appears to have been captured on cell phone footage of the arrest.
While he has since been released, a BBC spokesman expressed extreme concern about his treatment, saying he was “beaten and kicked by police”.
Protests have erupted across China, a rare display of dissent against the ruling Communist Party, sparked by anger at the country’s increasingly costly zero-Covid policy.
Among the thousands of protesters, hundreds have even called for the removal of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who for nearly three years has overseen a strategy of mass testing, brute force lockdowns, enforced quarantines and digital tracking that has taken a devastating human and economic toll.
The BBC statement read in full: “The BBC is extremely concerned at the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the Shanghai protests. He was held for several hours before being released. During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police. This happened while he was working as an accredited journalist.”
The statement continued: “It is very worrying that one of our journalists has been attacked in the course of his duties in this way. We have received no official statement or apology from the Chinese authorities, apart from the claim by the officers who later released him that should he catch Covid from the crowd they would have arrested him for his own good. We do not think this is a credible explanation.”
At a regular news conference on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian acknowledged Lawrence’s detention but claimed he did not identify himself as a journalist before he was taken away by police.
“China always welcomes foreign journalists reporting in the country in accordance with the law and has provided much support,” Zhao said. “At the same time, foreign journalists should comply with Chinese regulations when reporting in China.”
Public protests are extremely rare in China, where the Communist Party has tightened its grip on all aspects of life, launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent, wiped out much of civil society, and built a high-tech surveillance state.
At least two clips of the arrest were posted online by a Twitter user who claims to have witnessed the scene. A clip filmed from above shows at least four police officers standing over a handcuffed man with his face obscured.
In a second clip, featuring a man wearing the same clothing, Lawrence’s face can be clearly seen as police quickly ushered him away and then yelled, “Call the consulate now.”
The witness who shared the videos said he saw the journalist “besieged by several police officers and dragged to the ground.”
It is unclear what happened leading up to Lawrence’s arrest. The video, available online, begins with his arrest and does not show what happened before.
In an interview with Sky News on Monday, the UK government described Lawrence’s arrest as a “significant concern”.
“There can be absolutely no excuse for a journalist covering the ongoing trial simply because he was beaten by the police,” said UK Business Secretary Grant Shapps.
Lawrence was not the only foreign journalist arrested by Chinese police on Sunday. Michael Peuker, China correspondent for Swiss broadcaster RTS, was also briefly arrested while reporting live from a protest in Shanghai, RTS said.
“The tension is at its peak here. As proof that I am now surrounded by three police officers, I will be taken to the police station after this live hit,” said Peuker on the air. “I’ll leave you now and go to the police station,” he added.
Peuker said on Twitter that he was released moments later.