CHINA> Regional
Belgian journalists 'not attacked'
(China Daily)
Updated: 2008-12-04 07:09

ZHENGZHOU -- An investigation has found that two Belgian journalists and their assistant involved in a dispute in a Henan village - where many residents contracted HIV/AIDS through blood transfusions - were not attacked, a provincial government spokesman said on Wednesday.

The government began a probe into the incident on Tuesday after the journalists, from the Beijing bureau of the Belgian Flemish Radio and Television Network (VRT), scuffled with villagers and officials in Shangqiu.

The dispute took place when they were reporting on Nov 28 for Dec 1's World AIDS Day.

Wang Yuejin, spokesman for Henan's foreign affairs bureau, said: "As far as we know, there was no violence involved."

According to Wang, reporter Tom Van de Weghe, his cameraman and an interpreter, were twice blocked by villagers on Nov 27 in Zhoukou and Shangqiu.

The first incident happened at about 2 pm when their car was stopped at the entrance of a highway connecting Zhoukou and Shangqiu.

A young man who identified himself as a Zhoukou villager took away their video tapes, but there was no physical attack, Wang said.

Later that night, the three ran into four AIDS patients and four local officials at Gwangwang village in Suixian, Shangqiu, who asked the journalists to hand over their videotape and memory cards as the content "might affect the public image" of the patients, Wang said.

At that point, there was some jostling, after which Van de Weghe gave up the tapes and cards.

Van de Weghe said in a report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that "the men dragged us out of the vehicle and gave us some strong blows".

He said that he "received two blows to the head, the cameraman was hit in the face and the translator sustained a blow to the chest".

"We thought they were going to kill us ... It was complete chaos, we were crying," the report said.

A local official, Dong Hongliang, said: "Van de Weghe got out of the car himself. He was not beaten."

Van de Weghe also claimed that they had been "shadowed by two armored cars used by local authorities".

Dong said the local officials were there to prevent "extreme actions" and the account was backed up by seven other people at the scene.

VRT is asking for compensation for damaged equipment, an apology to the journalists and a guarantee that the journalists will be able to work safely.