The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s former China bureau chief has revealed details of the threats and interrogations from Chinese security officials that led to his departure from the country nearly two years ago.
Matthew Carney, head of the bureau from 2016 to 2018, on Monday published an account of his forced exit from China after he and his 14-year-old daughter were required to confess on video to alleged visa violations.
He said he chose not to tell his story previously to avoid jeopardising the ABC’s operations and staff in China, but that changed after ABC correspondent Bill Birtles and the Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith were evacuated from the country earlier this month.
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“My story – which occurred two years earlier – suggests that there is more to their actions against foreign journalists than tit-for-tat reprisals as the Chinese portray it,” Carney wrote.
His story reflects the increasingly tough reporting environment for foreign correspondents in China, and comes as relations between Beijing and Canberra have plummeted, in part over the treatment of their respective journalists. The departure of Birtles and Smith means that for the first time in decades there are no accredited Australian media journalists in mainland China, and it follows the expulsion of 17 foreign correspondents from China in the first half of the year.
Chinese-born Australian journalist Cheng Lei was also detained in China in August on national security charges.
Carney in his piece described more than three months of intimidation that he and his family faced as he waited for his visa to be renewed, before their return to Sydney in December 2018. He wrote that he was informed in August 2018 that the ABC’s reporting had violated Chinese laws and regulations, weeks after the broadcaster’s website became inaccessible in China.
In several meetings with Chinese officials that followed, he said he was berated for stories portraying China in a negative light – including on Chinese interference in Australia – and told he was under investigation.
“Ms Sun claimed I had abused all the people and leadership of China,” Carney wrote, referring to a Chinese bureaucrat who had interrogated him. “I knew my future, and that of my family, was now in the hands of the Chinese authorities.”
Carney said he was told that his daughter Yasmine, who was 14 at the time, was also part of the investigation, and that they could not leave the country. The two were pressured into confessing to a visa violation over failing to transfer a visa that was about to expire from an old passport to a new one.
“This felt like a line in the sand for me. I could not accept that they would involve my children,” he wrote. “At the same time, I was frightened. It felt like part of the Chinese playbook: to go after family members as a way to exact punishment and revenge.”
Carney added that he regretted his posting in China had ended in this manner, but that flying back home had “never felt so good”.
More from South China Morning Post:
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This article Ex-ABC bureau chief gives details of threats, interrogations before he left China first appeared on South China Morning Post