A crew of BBC reporters in China was attacked by a mob and later forced to sign a police confession for attempting an “illegal interview,” the British broadcaster said Friday.
The journalists were trying to reach a woman in Xinhua county in southern Hunan province, who claims her father was killed during a land dispute, when a group of men confronted them on Sunday, in an incident later condemned by Chinas foreign correspondents’ association.
“As soon as we arrived in Yang Linghua’s village it was clear they were expecting us,” correspondent John Sudworth wrote in an online article, referring to their intended interview subject.
“The road to her house was blocked by a large group of people and, within a few minutes, they’d assaulted us and smashed all of our cameras,” Sudworth wrote.
Later, police and local government officials forced them to delete video footage “under the threat of further violence” and sign a confession apologising for “behavior causing a bad impact,” according to the article.
The attack was an apparent effort to stop coverage of Yang’s story ahead of major annual political meetings of the ruling Communist Party, that kicked off in Beijing on Friday.
Yang had planned to travel to the capital, one of many so-called “petitioners” who journey from across the country to convince central authorities to right local government malfeasance – a Chinese custom dating back to imperial times.
Video footage of the incident on the BBC website showed a violent tussle that left at least one member of the crew with minor cuts to their hands.
“This violent effort to deter news coverage is a gross violation of Chinese government rules governing foreign correspondents, which expressly permit them to interview anybody who consents to be interviewed,” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said in a Friday statement.
The 2016 FCCC survey of working conditions for correspondents, released in November, found 57% of correspondents had been subjected to some form of interference, harassment or violence while attempting to report in China.