SHANGHAI/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian intelligence agency staff searched the homes of Chinese journalists in June, questioning them for several hours and removing their computers and mobile phones, China’s state news agency Xinhua reported late on Tuesday.
The Xinhua report comes shortly after two Australian journalists returned home with the help of consular officials after the pair were visited at their homes in Beijing and Shanghai and later questioned by China’s state security ministry.
The Xinhua report said the Australian searches, which it described as “raids”, were carried out on an unspecified number of Chinese journalists homes by intelligence personnel on June 26. The journalists were told to “be silent” about the incident, Xinhua said, without citing sources.
Asked if it could confirm the raids, the Chinese embassy in Canberra said in an emailed statement to Reuters it had “provided consular support to Chinese journalists in Australia and made representations with relevant Australian authorities to safeguard legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens”.
The Xinhua report also criticised a search of the home and office of New South Wales state politician Shaoquett Moselmane on the same day, alleging he was targeted for his praise of China’s achievements in fighting the epidemic and criticising Australia’s China policy.
“In a country with so-called ‘rule of law’, there is no justification and no conclusive evidence to search homes and seize personal belongings, which is completely committing “white terror” against the personnel of Chinese institutions and friends of China,” Xinhua said.
Australia has a tense diplomatic relationship with China, which worsened this year after Beijing vowed trade reprisals and said it was angered by Australia’s call for an international inquiry into the source of the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked about the Xinhua report, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said in an emailed statement that “as is long-standing practice, ASIO does not comment on intelligence matters.”
The Australian Federal Police (AFP), which conducted a search of the offices of Moselmane and his employee, John Zhang, on June 26, said “there is an ongoing investigation relating to the Moselmane search warrant”. Asked about the reported raids on journalists’ homes, the AFP said it had no further comment, pointing out it is not an intelligence agency.
Zhang is under scrutiny as part of a foreign interference investigation by the AFP into whether he was working to advance “Chinese state interests”, according to documents lodged in Australia’s High Court.
The reported June 26 searches of the Chinese journalists in Australia were also detailed in The Global Times, an English-language tabloid run by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper, which attributed the information to a source. The Chinese embassy distributed the Global Times article to other journalists in Australia and said it was “concerning”.
The two Australian journalists who arrived home from China on Tuesday had sought shelter in the embassy in Beijing and the consulate in Shanghai after police entered their homes a week ago and told them they were barred from leaving China.
Their departure leaves Australian media organisations with no correspondent in China for the first time since the 1970s.
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