Edward Lawrence, a senior journalist and camera operator in the BBC’s China bureau, was arrested in Shanghai on Sunday evening while covering an anti-‘COVID Zero’ protest.
Citizens of some of China’s biggest cities, including Shanghai and Beijing (pictured above), are protesting the authoritarian government’s draconian COVID Zero measures, which include frequent and severe lockdowns. Protestors, some carrying flowers and slogans, have also expressed displeasure with Chinese President Xi Jinping himself.
In a series of tweets before his arrest, Lawrence wrote that he was watching the crowds grow at an anti-lockdown protest in Shanghai. He wrote that he had seen three people arrested by the police and that the police had approached him to listen to his conversation while he talked to a man who claimed his flowers had been confiscated by the authorities.
It is unclear when or why Lawrence was then apprehended but two videos circulating appeared to show snippets of his arrest. In one, he is forcibly led away by three men, two of whom are in uniform, while shouting to a colleague “Call the consulate now.”
In another he is on the floor, surrounded by five men, before being led away in handcuffs.
In a statement, a spokesperson for BBC News said: “The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai. 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.”
“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. We do not consider this a credible explanation.”
Lawrence, who appears to have been released, re-tweeted the statement on Twitter on Monday adding: “I understand at least one local national was arrested after trying to stop the police from beating me.”
The protests in China, the scale of which are unprecedented, were reportedly sparked by a catastrophic fire in an apartment block in the city of Urumqi last week, which killed 10 people. It is understood the neighborhood in which the apartment block was situated was under one of the frequent zero COVID lockdowns, which prevented the inhabitants from escaping.
China’s strict zero COVID policy has seen the country’s citizens spend almost three years living under some of the world’s most stringent anti-COVID measures in the world, including lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines.
Last month 20,000 visitors were locked inside Shanghai Disneyland after officials discovered eight positive cases of COVID in the city. They were later released.