Foreign journalists harassed in Henan province, China, over floods coverage
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A Los Angeles Times journalist, Alice Su, and a Deutsche Welle correspondent, Mathias Boelinger, were surrounded and confronted in the streets of Zhengzhou by a crowd of Chinese citizens who accused them of ‘spreading rumors’ and slandering China. Other journalists, in particular from the BBC, were also targeted.
The two journalists had been sent to the region to report on the consequences of the devastating floods of recent days, which hit the Henan region particularly hard. The rains then moved north.
The two journalists were in an area where an underground market was flooded and many shopkeepers lost their belongings.
Alice Su, in a message on Twitter, said there were many people in Zhengzhou and the affected areas who were willing to talk about the destruction and difficulties. But this crowd seemed really angry and only eager to blame the foreigners.
This is @mare_porter and me in the streets of Zhengzhou yesterday. We were surrounded by an angry crowd shouting things like this is China, get out of China! I tried to de-escalate by “translating” the crowd’s message (Mathias is actually fluent in Chinese) https://t.co/uE7glR1kBS— Alice Su (@aliceysu) July 25, 2021
According to Boelinger’s reports on social media, the man said he was shoved and shouted at for ‘besmirching China’, and at one point it became apparent that the crowd believed he was BBC correspondent Robin Brant.
Stephen McDonell, another BBC journalist in China said that the hate campaign was orchestrated by someone, specifically against the BBC.
A hashtag related to the incident was seen more than 27 million times on Weibo.
Many of the comments were critical and some were offensive and threatening. Personal information of the journalists was also shared. Some commentators called for the journalists, including Boelinger and Su, to be deported, while the Communist Youth League called on people to follow Brant and report his whereabouts.
Just to give you guys an idea what environment leads to this kind of incident. This is a post by Henan's Communist Youth League asking netizens to follow around @robindbrant and report his whereabouts. https://t.co/y18TTR9JY4 pic.twitter.com/mPoETs3sVu— Mathias Boelinger (@mare_porter) July 25, 2021
In the past 18 months, at least 16 American journalists have been expelled from the country, four journalists have been forced to flee, and two others, Australian TV presenter Cheng Lei and Chinese Bloomberg journalist Haze Fan have been arrested.