Grant Shapps says ‘no excuse’ for media covering China protests to be beaten by police

Business secretary Grant Shapps said there was “no excuse” for the Chinese police to physically assault mediapersons covering protests after the BBC said its journalist was beaten and detained in Shanghai.

“There can be absolutely no excuse whatsoever for journalists who are simply covering the protests going on, for being beaten by the police,” Mr Shapps told Sky News on Monday.

“I know that’s a considerable concern.”

The BBC has accused the Chinese police of assaulting one of its journalists Edward Lawrence while covering protests against the Communist party’s stringent Covid-19 restrictions in China.

The broadcaster said it was “concerned” over the arrest and treatment of Mr Lawrence, who it said was “beaten and kicked” in Shanghai on Sunday night.

“He was held for several hours before being released. During his arrest he was beaten and kicked by police,” the BBC statement said.

“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,” it added.

In a video shared on social media, Mr Lawrence, who works at the BBC's China bureau, can be seen being dragged by the police while he was sharing live updates on Twitter. In one video, he could be heard saying: “Call the consulate now!”

The broadcaster said it had not received any official explanation or apology from Chinese authorities, adding officials said Mr Lawrence was arrested “for his own good” in case he caught Covid from the crowd.

Following the BBC's statement, the Chinese foreign ministry on Monday said the reporter did not identify himself as a journalist. Spokesman Zhao Lijian said the BBC's statement did not reflect what happened on Sunday.

“According to our understanding, the BBC’s statement is not true,” he said.

“Based on what we learned from authorities in Shanghai, he did not reveal his journalist identity at the time, he did not openly show his foreign press card,” he added.

Hundreds of people in major Chinese cities have taken to the streets in rare protests against Beijing’s strict Covid restrictions, with demonstrators asking president Xi Jinping to step down from office.

China has placed millions under lockdown and implemented mass testing under its dynamic “zero-Covid” policy as the Asian giant battles a fresh, record wave of Covid cases.