Chinese authorities are offering a $3,000 bounty to Wukan villagers who turn in foreign journalists

We’re coming for you, foreign forces.
We’re coming for you, foreign forces.
Image: Reuters/James Pomfret
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Five Hong Kong journalists were detained by police and later expelled from a fishing village in China Thursday morning (Sept. 15), as authorities offered cash rewards to people to turn in ”foreign forces” they blame for a local rebellion.

At least five journalists from Hong Kong newspapers Ming Pao, the South China Morning Post (SCMP), and digital news website HK01 were arrested by police Wednesday in the village of Wukan in Guangdong province, about 150 miles from Hong Kong. Three were found during a police raid at a house, while two were intercepted by police before entering the village, Ming Pao reported (link in Chinese).

On Tuesday (Sept. 13), riot police blockaded Wukan village to quash a long-running dispute over land rights and the arrest of the village head on corruption charges, with bloody scenes ensuing as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protestors. Information about the crackdown was entirely blocked in mainland China, and journalists from the BBC were barred from entering the area on Wednesday.

According to Ming Pao, around 20 plainclothes and uniformed police surrounded the village house where three journalists were staying, at around 9.30pm on Wednesday. A team of plainclothes police then broke into the house, manhandled the reporters into a car, and took them to a police station in the nearby city of Lufeng. The three, along with two reporters from HK01, were detained there for five hours, and were ask to sign a letter promising that they would “never do illegal interviews in Lufeng again.” Local officials then drove them overnight to Shenzhen, just across the border with Hong Kong.

Ming Pao said the three journalists were badly treated during the raid. The SCMP reporter was thrown to the ground, while a Ming Pao reporter was punched, despite following police instructions to squat. The police officers accused them of being ”thieves” during the arrest, Ming Pao said.

SCMP told Quartz that one staff reporter was detained and questioned by local authorities in Wukan on Wednesday, and “released early this morning and returned to Hong Kong unharmed.” A spokesman said by email: “We condemn the detention of our reporter, who has proper journalist credentials issued by the Central Government authorizing him to work in the mainland.”

A spokesperson with HK01 told Quartz that the two staff reporters returned to Hong Kong this morning, but didn’t reveal more details.

Authorities are on a hunt for foreign journalists inside Wukan village. BBC reporters were expelled from the scene earlier. Since Wednesday afternoon, loudspeakers have broadcast messages to villagers telling them that those who could offer clues to finding “foreign forces” hiding in the village would be awarded 20,000 yuan (about $3000), villagers told Ming Pao (link in Chinese). Earlier, police arrested 13 village  protestors for “disturbing public space and transportation orders.” The reward for tips of the whereabouts of the five other wanted villagers is 100,000 yuan.

Chinese authorities deny a violent crackdown has occurred, and condemned the protests. An op-ed published Thursday by the nationalistic state-run tabloid Global Times blamed the rebellion on ”foreign forces,” a narrative often propagated by the government when unrest happens. The article accused foreign media of inciting chaos by faking news of the death of an 83-year-old female villager during the crackdown.

“Shakespeare once said that a rumor is like a flute… Those foreign forces are addicted to the flute and have even turned their illusions into the truth. But Wukan villagers have long seen through such tricks. And they are not interested in being fooled,” the Global Times article concluded.