China urges Australia to stop harassing, suppressing Chinese personnel
Australian agents in June raided the homes of four journalists working for Chinese state media and seized their electronics, citing possible violations of Australia’s anti-foreign interference law, China’s foreign ministry said.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Australian officials cited a possible violation of the country’s foreign interference laws for their raids, but had not provided a “reasonable explanation” for the searches.
“The Australian government’s behavior ... blatantly violates the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese journalists there and caused severe harm to the physical and mental health of the journalists and their families,” Zhao said on Wednesday. “We ask Australia to immediately stop such blatant irrational behaviors, stop harassing and oppressing Chinese personnel in Australia under whatever pretext.”
Zhao said officials seized laptops, cellphones, and a child’s toy tablet from the homes of reporters from outlets including state news agency Xinhua, China News Service and the China Media Group.
“I would like to stress that the journalists of the Chinese media in Australia have strictly observed local laws and regulations,” he said.
Two Australian journalists left China on Tuesday after they were questioned by China’s state security ministry in the case of Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist for Chinese state television who was detained on suspicion of illegal activities that endanger China’s security.
The departure of the two reporters leaves Australian media organizations with no correspondent in China for the first time since the 1970s.
Zhao said the four Chinese journalists have returned to China and denied any connection with the flight of the two Australian journalists.
The Australian foreign office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter declined to comment on “operational matters” when asked about an earlier report on the Australian raids by Xinhua, but added that authorities “take issues of foreign interference very seriously.” The Australian Security Intelligence Organization also declined to comment on the Xinhua report, in line with usual practice.
Xinhua reported the Chinese journalists were told to “be silent” about the incident.
The Chinese Embassy in Canberra said it had provided consular support to journalists, in response to a question about the raids.
The Xinhua report also criticized a search of the home and office of New South Wales state politician Shaoquett Moselmane on June 26, saying he was targeted for his praise of China’s achievements in fighting the coronavirus and criticizing Australia’s China policy.