BBC journalist 'beaten and kicked' by police during Covid protests in China

The BBC journalist was dragged to the ground by police in Shanghai - Twitter
The BBC journalist was dragged to the ground by police in Shanghai - Twitter

Chinese police arrested and assaulted a BBC journalist in Shanghai amid massive anti-Covid protests that rocked the nation at the weekend.

BBC cameraman Edward Lawrence was arrested and handcuffed while covering protests in Shanghai on Sunday, the broadcaster said.

"He was held for several hours before being released. During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police,” a BBC statement added, specifying that Mr Lawrence was working as an accredited journalist.

“It is very worrying that one of our journalists was attacked in this way whilst carrying out his duties.

“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.”

In a video circulated on Twitter, Mr Lawrence is shown being rushed by police from a protest area, while he calls on a friend to “Call the consulate now.”

Another video shows police pinning Mr Lawrence to the ground while the crowd is shouting, “Release him!”

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Protests on a scale rarely seen in China grew last week as people in cities around the country marched against draconian Covid restrictions, which many believe led to the death of 10 people in a fire in the western city of Urumqi on Thursday.

In Shanghai, protesters shouted, “Down with the Chinese Communist Party! Down with Xi Jinping!” in the most direct challenge to Beijing’s leadership since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.  

In Beijing, crowds protested into the early hours on Monday, chanting, “We don’t want Covid tests; we want freedom” but also more defiant slogans such as, “We want universal values,” “We want freedom, equality, democracy, rule of law,” “We don’t want dictatorship,” “We don’t want personality cult.”

Protests against China's strict Covid-19 restrictions have erupted in various cities including Beijing and Shanghai - Shutterstock
Protests against China's strict Covid-19 restrictions have erupted in various cities including Beijing and Shanghai - Shutterstock

Police in plainclothes moved to make some arrests, a protester in Beijing who didn’t want to be named told The Telegraph. Videos showed crowds calling for the detainees’ release.

Arrests were allegedly made in Shanghai too, according to videos on social media.

Beijing health authorities on Sunday promised to “improve” anti-Covid measures and banned barricading gates in residential compounds.

Health authorities pledged to “optimise epidemic control according to new conditions,” Liu Xiaofeng, deputy head of the Beijing municipal disease prevention and control center, told a press conference, according to Xinhua news agency.

It is unclear what the authorities’ centralised response to the protests will be, though real concessions or a relenting of zero-Covid curbs remain unlikely.

The government finds itself in a tight spot because lifting the curbs could lead to a significant death toll as vaccination rates among the elderly are relatively low and the population has low levels of acquired immunity, experts say.

On Monday, China reported another record high in Covid infections, of 40,052 cases, up from 39,506 a day earlier. Outbreaks are ongoing in mega cities including Beijing, Guangzhou and Chongqing.