CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A former Australian correspondent in Beijing said Monday that he and his 14-year-old daughter were threatened with detention before they left China two years ago.
Matthew Carney said he had not revealed the 2018 incident until now because he had wanted to avoid “negative consequences“ for Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s operations in China.
Two weeks ago, reporters for the state-funded ABC and The Australian Financial Review newspaper became the last two Australian journalists working for Australian media to leave China due to threats of detention.
Carney was the ABC’s China bureau chief in 2018 when Australia passed laws outlawing covert foreign interference in domestic politics, which he said “outraged” China. Carney said the laws started “three months of intimidation and all types of threats” against him and his family.
Carney told his story in an interview aired on ABC radio and in an account posted on the news organization’s website Monday. There was no immediate response from China.
Carney said he was told to bring this 14-year-old daughter, Yasmine, to a Beijing Public Security facility where interrogations and detentions were the norm.
A woman official told him that he and his daughter were being investigated for a “visa crime.”
“Your daughter is 14 years old. She is an adult under Chinese law and as the People’s Republic of China is a law-abiding country she will be charged with the visa crime,” Carney said he was told.
He said the woman told him his daughter could be detained “with other adults” in an undisclosed location.
“She was obviously very skilled in interrogation and in ramping up the fear and the panic,” Carney said.
Carney said he offered to leave China with his wife and three children the next day, but was told he could not leave the country while he was under investigation.
With his visa due to expire within days, the official said he would be placed in detention rather than deported on its expiration.
After consultation with the Australian Embassy and the ABC, Carney said he decided to confess his guilt and apologize for the “bizarre visa violation,” on condition that his daughter was allowed to stay with the family.
Their confessions were video recorded and the woman told him she would write a report to “the higher authority” for judgment.
With the family’s visas about to expire, the official said the judgment could be weeks away.
But he got a phone call the next day and was told two-month extensions had been granted to their visas.
He said he thought it was “some bizarre theater” to send a message to himself and Australia’s government that “A, if you do bad reporting, B, if your government is going to introduce harsh laws we don’t agree with, well then there is a price to be paid.”
“In retrospect, that’s what I think it was, thank God. They didn’t follow through on their threats,” Carney said.
Carney said he made the sudden decision to leave China after a Chinese woman threatened to sue him for defamation over a story he reported about Chinese attempts to engineer better citizen behavior.
He had legal advice that he would be banned from leaving once legal proceedings were initiated against him.
Australia updated its travel advice in July to warn its citizens of potential arbitrary detention on security grounds in China.
Chinese-Australian spy novelist and blogger Yang Hengjun has been detained in China since he arrived on a flight from New York in January last year in what some suspect is a Chinese reaction to deteriorating bilateral relations. Yang has since been charged with endangering state security.
The Chinese foreign ministry said the day the last two Australian journalists working for Australian media in China left the country that Australian citizen Cheng Lei, a business news anchor for CGTN, China’s English-language state media channel, had been detained on suspicion of national security crimes.