Australian journalists forced to leave China after diplomatic standoff

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Fearing for their safety, the Australian government helped two Australian journalists living in China flee the country on Monday after a five-day diplomatic standoff with Beijing.

Bill Birtles of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation had to take shelter in Australia’s embassy in Beijing, while Michael Smith of the Australian Financial Review took refuge in Shanghai consulate after both were questioned by the police.

Both left China only weeks after Chinese authorities detained another Australian journalist, Cheng Lei, a business news anchor for the Chinese state-backed media outlet China Global Television Network.

The journalists arrived in Sydney on Tuesday.

The development comes as diplomatic and economic relations between Australia and China have deteriorated in recent years.

Now, fewer foreign journalists in the country means less scrutiny of China’s human rights record at a time when serious abuses are increasing.

In June, an unprecedented 50 UN human rights experts issued a joint statement expressing concerns at the Chinese government’s mass violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet, the suppression of COVID-19-related information, and the targeting of human rights defenders across the country.

They called on the UN Human Rights Council to “act with a sense of urgency” to monitor China’s human rights practices, including a council Special Session and the creation of an independent international mechanism.

The Australian journalists’ recent experiences make it clear why such scrutiny is necessary.

The Human Rights Council’s September session will be Australia’s last during its current three-year term as a council member. It should make it count by working with other governments to call for a special session or urgent debate on China.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne should also reconsider the government’s recent decision to abolish the human rights post at the Australian embassy in Beijing. More monitoring of the Chinese government’s human rights record is needed, not less. (Source: HRW)

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