Chinese cameraman caught in the violence

Updated: 2011-08-13 08:25

By Zhang Haizhou (China Daily)

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LONDON - When a man pulled out a knife and threatened to take his camera, Chinese cameraman Zhang Zhaohui ran for his life.

"I was so frightened that I could feel the perspiration, and I was running as fast as I could," said Zhang, 21, who was filming the riots for C Cubed, a London-based media company.

"It was all dark, and I could see his fierce looks. I will never forget that feeling for the rest of my life."

Zhang and seven other colleagues had been filming since 8 pm on Monday in Lewisham, a district in southeast London. The streets were already chaotic when they arrived. Rioters were smashing shop windows, setting cars on fire and attacking police officers. They also targeted camera crews and photographers, fearing their identities would be exposed.

Zhang's camera crew went to Deptford High Street, a major road that was already occupied by rioters. All of the shops were boarded up, and some burning garbage cans were lying in the middle of the road. Zhang stopped and began to film. Within minutes, he was confronted by a group of rioters, some carrying bricks in their hands.

"Then two vehicles driving by stopped, and the drivers told us not to be afraid and just run. So we stopped filming and began to rush back to our company," Zhang said.

Zhang ran until he saw an iron door. He tried to enter but a guard stopped him. "He didn't allow me in and said he didn't want to cause any trouble by offering access to a reporter," Zhang said.

Zhang noticed that one of the rioters was still following him, so he started running again. He was alone now. His colleagues had ran in a different direction when they fled. The man chasing him began yelling.

"The rioter was shouting things like: 'Stop! Give me the camera!'," Zhang said.

Zhang yelled for help, but no one responded. "When I was running for my life, I could hear sirens roaring loudly nearby," he said. "I saw a helicopter flying above, but I couldn't find a single police officer to help me. I felt really desperate."

He turned around and to his relief the man was no longer behind him.

After running about 2,000 meters, Zhang reached a main road that was not occupied by rioters. The bus service had stopped for the evening, so his only option to get back to his office was to take a taxi. He frantically tried to wave several down, but none would stop.

Then Zhang saw a taxi stopped at a red light, and he quickly jumped inside. The taxi driver, an old man, refused to drive Zhang to his office because he said his wife had told him to come home soon.

The taxi driver told Zhang to go to Greenwich, which was a few kilometers and safe from the rioting. Zhang got out of the taxi. He saw a Chinese takeout restaurant and, without thinking, he rushed in. The owner, who looked really calm, tried to comfort Zhang, telling him that it was safe inside his car.

The middle-aged man, who said he was from northeast China's Jilin province, offered Zhang a ride to a nearby subway station, North Greenwich.

Zhang took a train home. When he arrived, Zhang said he was still scared and "didn't feel hungry or sleepy the whole night".

He didn't calm down until the next morning, when he finally felt safe.