BEIJING (AP) — 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 Wednesday.
There have been no previous reports about the alleged Australian actions. The accusation by ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian came one day after the last two Australian journalists working for Australian media left China for fear of detention and the Chinese foreign ministry announced Australian citizen Cheng Lei, a Chinese state media journalist, had been detained on suspicion of national security crimes.
There was no immediate Australian government comment on the allegation.
Zhao said the four Chinese journalists have since returned to China and denied any connection with the flight of the two Australian journalists, who took refuge in Australian diplomatic missions in China after agents barred them from leaving China and demanded they answer questions about Cheng’s case.
China is Australia’s biggest trading partner but relations have come under heavy strain after Australia outlawed covert interference in politics and banned Chinese communications giant Huawei from supplying critical infrastructure. They have worsened since the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origin of the coronaviraus pandemic and international responses to it.
Zhao said the four journalists represented Xinhua News Agency, China Central Radio, state broadcaster CCTV and China News Agency.
Their work computers, cellphones and “even children’s tablets and electronic toys” were seized in the raids, Zhao told reporters at a daily news briefing.
“As far as I know, the Australian side has so far not given a reasonable explanation for the raid and has not returned all the items seized to the journalists,” Zhao said.
He said China has lodged “solemn complaints with Australia.”
“We urge the Australian side to immediately stop the barbarous and irrational behavior, stop using any excuses to harass and suppress the Chinese citizens in Australia, ensure their safety and legal rights and interests, and stop doing anything that would obstruct cultural exchanges between the two countries,” Zhao said.