Posted September 8, 2020 1:29 pm by

Australian journalists flee China fearing arrest

ABC journalist Bill Birtles recounted a whirlwind week of political manoeuvering, and said ‘it’s a relief to be back in a country with genuine rule of law’ © ABC NEWS/AFP / TARYN SOUTHCOMBE

Sydney, Australia, Sep 8 – Two high-profile Australian journalists fled China overnight, fearing they faced arrest as political “pawns” and the latest victims of Beijing’s targeted repression of foreign media.

Their exit came following days of secret diplomatic wrangling between Beijing and Canberra, whose relationship is already at the lowest point in decades.

Bill Birtles and Michael Smith had separately taken refuge at Australian diplomatic missions in China for several tense days until deals were eventually struck to allow their safe return home.

Landing at Sydney airport on Tuesday, Birtles — Beijing correspondent for public broadcaster ABC — expressed sadness after a “whirlwind” week of political “chess”, but said: “It’s a relief to be back in a country with genuine rule of law.”

Their ordeal began almost a week ago, when police carried out synchronised midnight raids on Birtles’s home in Beijing and Smith’s in Shanghai — where he was correspondent for the Australian Financial Review.

Both men were told they were part of an unnamed “national security” investigation, were barred from leaving the country and would face questioning.

“I felt like I suddenly, unintentionally, had become a pawn in some sort of diplomatic tussle,” said Birtles.

Fearful of interrogation and arbitrary arrest, they fled to their closest Australian diplomatic missions until agreeing to answer Ministry of State Security questions in return for safe passage home.

“We didn’t really have any option. You don’t want to be a Julian Assange and stuck in an embassy for years,” the ABC reporter said, referring to the WikiLeaks’ founder who holed up the Ecuadorian embassy in London for seven years.

The journalists flew out of Shanghai late Monday accompanied by Australian diplomats, and arrived in Sydney early Tuesday.

They are the latest in a string of foreign journalists to be barred, detained or pushed out of China — as the Communist Party targets reporters from Western media outlets.

– Crackdown –

Beijing’s security services earlier this month detained another Australian journalist, Cheng Lei, who worked for China’s state-run CGTN TV. Several reporters for US media have had their visas revoked and been forced to leave the country.

US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus accused China of “threatening, harassing, and expelling US and other foreign journalists” after Beijing refused to renew press Read More…Australian journalists flee China fearing arrest  Australian journalists flee China fearing arrest  Australian journalists flee China fearing arrest  Australian journalists flee China fearing arrest