Reporters from Sky News were “violently” dragged away by plain-clothes police as they tried to interview protesters in Ningbo who are continuing to gather outside government offices in order to ensure local politicians keep their promise to halt plans to expand a petrochemical plant.
Angus Walker, a reporter for ITV, tells of his similar experience with police in Ningbo:
“Calm down, you are being stupid,” the policeman screamed at me. Seconds before, out of the dark, he’d run up to me and grabbed me by the arm. He started to pull me towards the gates of a government building which had been the focus of protests for days. Hundreds of riot police were milling around the entrance. They’d just forced the crowds demanding the government scrap plans to build a chemical plant near the city of Ningbo away into side streets.
We spent 12 hours covering the march to the government offices and the standoff between protesters and the police which lasted into the night. The crowds cheered us and applauded, thousands of people parted and helped us, offering food, water and saying “thank you”, “help us” and “please don’t leave”.
The photos now circulating and the massive roar from the crowd whenever we appeared made us uncomfortable. We were being seen as supporters of the protest. “Thank you for supporting us,” people said to me. There’s a fine line between being a foreign reporter in China and being seen as a troublemaker, stirring up people and inflaming the situation. Politely, I asked people not to draw attention to us. It didn’t work. We were greeted like rock stars throughout the day. More than a dozen people came up to me and claimed that as long as we were there, the police would not use violence.
It’s not hard to share the protesters’ scepticism that, without national media coverage, once the furore has died down the Ningbo government may once again push forward with building the chemical plant. These protests demonstrate the importance of a free press to a society, hopefully the brave work of the few foreign reporters will be enough to ensure some sort of political accountability in Zhejiang province.