Australian intelligence agents in June raided the homes of Chinese journalists who were then subjected to questioning, had their electronic devices seized and asked not to report the incident, China’s state media said.
The accusation is the latest in the flare-up of tensions between the two nations.
The “raids” took place on an unspecified number of Chinese journalists’ homes by Australian intelligence officers on June 26, reported China’s state news agency Xinhua.
The reporters were told to “be silent” about the incident, Xinhua said, without citing sources.
Another state media outlet, The Global Times, said the Chinese journalists were questioned and their computers and smartphones seized, citing an unnamed source “close to the matter”.
It also cited anonymous experts as saying: “The incident exposed Australia’s hypocrisy in upholding so-called “freedom of the press”.
The reports come a day after the last two journalists working in China for Australian media flew home after a tense diplomatic stand-off.
Australian police and intelligence agencies said they would not comment on the report.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Australian Security Intelligence Agency (Asio) said: “As is long-standing practice, Asio does not comment on intelligence matters.”
According to Xinhua the raids took place on the same day the home and office of Australian politician Shaoquett Moselmane were raided.
Mr. Moselmane, a state lawmaker in New South Wales (NSW), has previously said he is not a suspect in an Australian investigation into allegations that Chinese agents infiltrated his office.
Xinhua claimed Mr. Moselmane had been targeted for his praise of China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, the diplomatic crisis appeared to escalate further as ABC News also reported that the visas of two leading Chinese scholars had been revoked as part of the “unprecedented foreign interference” probe.
It said it had uncovered the identities of the journalists who were investigated from media organisations including the Chinese News Service, and China Radio International.
Relations between Australia and China have been strained in recent years and plummeted sharply after Canberra backed an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
The raid allegations come a day after Bill Birtles from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Mike Smith from the Australian Financial Review – the last correspondents to be based in China for Australian media – landed in Sydney on Tuesday after a five-day diplomatic standoff.
The pair was eventually allowed to leave China after being interviewed by police over the case of another Australian journalist, Cheng Lei, who has been detained in China since last month on accusations of endangering national security.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said on Monday that a record 17 foreign journalists had been expelled from the country in the first half of 2020. (Source: BBC)