The BBC said on Sunday that Chinese police assaulted and detained one of its journalists covering a protest in Shanghai, before later releasing him after several hours.
“The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai,” a spokesperson for the British public service broadcaster said in a statement.
“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 spokesperson added.
Shanghai is one of a number of Chinese cities that has seen protests over stringent COVID restrictions, which flared in recent days following a deadly fire in the country’s far west.
Footage on social media showed a man whom other journalists identified as Lawrence being arrested by men in police uniforms.
The BBC said it had not been given a credible explanation for Lawrence’s detention.
“We have had no official explanation or apology from the Chinese authorities, beyond a claim by the officials who later released him that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught COVID from the crowd,” the BBC said.
China’s embassy in London has been approached for comment.
Meanwhile, huge protests continue across many cities in China. In an unprecedented show of defiance against the zero-Covid policy, protestors are even heard chanting “Step down, Xi Jinping! Step down, Communist Party,” according to a CNN report.
This large-scale protest was apparently sparked by an apartment block fire in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang province, which killed at least 10 people on Thursday and has acted as a catalyst for searing public anger.
According to media reports, much of the demonstration started as videos emerged that seemed to suggest lockdown measures delayed firefighters from reaching the victims. From the capital Beijing to the financial hub of Shanghai, people reportedly gathered to mourn the dead from the Xinjiang fire, while holding protests against zero-Covid policies.
By Sunday evening, on dozens of university campuses, students demonstrated or put up protest posters. Protests also spread to Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Wuhan, where residents called for not only an end to Covid restrictions.
At Tsinghua University, in the capital city Beijing, students gathered on a square to protest against zero-Covid. Videos and images circulating on social media show students holding up sheets of white paper and shouting: “Democracy and rule of law! Freedom of expression!”According to CNN, residents in locked-down neighborhoods tore down barriers and took to the streets, following mass anti-lockdown protests in Urumqi on Friday.
Such widespread scenes of anger and defiance are rare in China, where the ruling Communist Party clamps down on all forms of dissent. However, the increase in COVID restrictions long detested across the country has brought matters to a head.