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Reporters on the Job

December 23, 2008

SOURCE: www.strangecosmos.com/© 2008 MCT

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Arrested for Reporting: Peter Ford says he knew something was wrong when Zhang Mingxuan, the Protestant pastor with whom he had stayed the night after a long interview, never came back from the shops where he had gone to get Peter some breakfast (see story).

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"Sure enough, when a half-dozen policemen burst into the house where members of Zhang's underground congregation were praying an hour or so later, it became clear he had been arrested," Peter remembers.

"My assistant and I were hauled off in an unmarked car to a hotel, where we were kept in a room while my passport and journalist's accreditation were checked, and then a man who would not identify himself asked me questions about how I met Zhang, which phone I used to arrange my meeting, how I had traveled from Beijing, what we had talked about, and so on."

Peter says that he did not tell him anything he did not already know and that it was clear the police had been shadowing Zhang and tapping Zhang's phone.

"In the end, the policeman – which is what my 'interrogator' appeared to be – seemed to run out of questions and started asking me whether I liked China and whether I had ever written any articles about China. I had already told him I had been a correspondent here for two years."

The authorities kept Peter in the hotel until it was time for him to catch his plane back to Beijing. They drove him to the airport with a warning that he had been attending "an unlawful gathering."

" I did not think it the right moment," Peter says, "to quote the article of the Chinese Constitution that guarantees religious freedom."

– Amelia Newcomb

Deputy World editor

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