A Globe and Mail journalist was detained by Chinese police and had his camera searched and computer seized while reporting in the remote Xinjiang region in northwestern China.
The Globe's Asia correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe was held for about three hours from late Wednesday evening until Thursday morning before he was released by local police and government officials. The incident comes as foreign journalists in China report increased harassment and intimidation while reporting from the country.
Mr. VanderKlippe arrived Wednesday evening in a small village in the Elishku township in Xinjiang province. He had been attempting to interview locals for less than 15 minutes when a police officer pulled up next to him on a motorcycle. Two more police officers soon followed, along with others who appeared to be government officials. He identified himself as a journalist, and was told to follow the men back to a local government office.
"At one point, I asked, 'Am I free to go?' And one person said 'of course.' But the other said, 'let me check,'" Mr. VanderKlippe said. "It was pretty clear I was not free to go."
At the office, the men demanded to search through his belongings, including a bag and camera. He initially pushed back, but eventually relented. "They said the regular rules don't apply to them."
The officials then demanded to look through his computer. Again, Mr. VanderKlippe pushed back, and this time the officials backed down. He was taken to a nearby restaurant for a small meal instead. But upon return to the office, they again demanded to see his computer – this time taking it away from him.
"They didn't really enunciate or say why – they just told me that I will get it back tomorrow," Mr. VanderKlippe said.
He was then allowed to leave Elishku by car, but followed out of town by a car driven by two of the officers.
Mr. VanderKlippe was not physically harmed throughout the incident. Still, he does not know how his computer will be returned, only receiving from the officials a handwritten note acknowledging that his property had been seized.
The Chinese embassy in Canada did not respond to a request for comment. John Babcock, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said, "We are aware of reports that a Canadian citizen was detained in China. Consular officials in Ottawa and Beijing are in the process of gathering additional information and stand ready to provide consular assistance. At this time, no further information can be provided."
Xinjiang is home to a large portion of China's Uighur population, and the site of recent clashes between Chinese police and the ethnic minority. Mr. VanderKlippe, who in 2014 received an Amnesty International Canada award for his work on the troubled region, had been reporting on the security situation of Uighurs Wednesday before being detained.
Globe and Mail editor-in-chief David Walmsley called the harassment of the journalist "deeply disturbing."
"To arbitrarily detain a reporter, take his computer and then upon releasing him from custody continue to follow his car as if he were little more than a bandit, is a sad indictment," he said.
In 2009, The Globe's then-Asia correspondent Mark MacKinnon was expelled by local officials from the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang while reporting on the ethnic clashes. "This is the second time a Globe correspondent has been harassed in this region," Mr. Walmsley said. "There is clearly a story to be told there."
Mr. VanderKlippe, who has been the Globe's Beijing-based correspondent since 2013, said that incidents of harassment against journalists "seem to be growing in severity and in frequency, particularly in areas that are remote in the country like this."
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 38 journalists and writers were imprisoned in China as of December, 2016.
A survey of China's foreign correspondents last year, meanwhile, found that half of the over 100 respondents had personally experienced "interference, harassment or violence" while working in the country.
With a file from Robert Fife