When Guardian reporter Benjamin Joffe-Walt last saw Lu Banglie, the activist beaten by local thugs for leading the journalist to Taishi village where villagers' demands for democracy had caused such a ruckus the authorities had sealed off the area, here is how Joffe-Walt describes Lu's physical condition:
He lay there - his eye out of its socket, his tongue cut, a stream of blood dropping from his mouth, his body limp, twisted. The ligaments in his neck were broken, so his head lay sideways as if connected to the rest of his body by a rubber band.
Based on such a description, it seems implausible that a person could survive. But he did. Radio Free Asia has interviewed Lu. Here is an English summary. Here is the original Chinese audio. Here is RFA's report on Lu's account of what happened:
“All of a sudden many people surrounded our car,” Lü told RFA’s Mandarin service. “We tried to put the gear in reverse but the mob would not let us go in reverse either. They were pointing at me as if they knew me.”
Lu, who was trying to accompany Guardian correspondent, was pulled out of the front passenger seat by several men by the hair, he said. “They started hitting me with their fists and kicking me with their feet. They pinned me to the ground and kept beating me. I fainted,” he told RFA reporter Zhang Min.
“Someone splashed cold water on me and I regained consciousness for a second but then passed out again. When I came to, I was in a moving vehicle. My head was hurting very badly. I started throwing up,” he said.
After he had vomited several times, the men offered him food, and then dumped him at the Zhijiang Hotel, contacting the Zhijiang parliament as they left. Two parliamentary officials then took Lu to hospital, suggesting to him that he should blame Taishi villagers for the attack.
But Lu won't blame the villagers:
“I don’t know who beat me. They were wearing plain clothes. But later I was told by people from the Zhijiang People’s Congress that they were villagers. They even asked me, ‘Don’t you think the farmers down there are violent and barbaric?’ I was still in a daze at the time, but I remember replying, ‘It’s not the peasants who are barbaric. It’s the government.’ They smiled.”
Lu said he was convinced that those who beat him did so on behalf of local government officials, who villagers say have launched a concerted campaign of psychological pressure, threats, and unattributable violence to prevent the recall of village chief Chen Jinsheng since a dispute blew up in July over a U.S.$12 million land deal.
“The government has adopted heavy-handed tactics to deal with those who are only trying to defend their rights according to the law. It chills my heart,” Lu said.
Chinese government efforts at media blackout continue. According to ESWN all attempts to post comments about Taishi on Chinese online forums are blocked by censors. A few Chinese blogs are commenting. The focus has more to do with the Guardian journalist's responsibility and role in the incident. The Chinese blogger Anti has a scathing post about Joffe-Walt, ESWN translates it here (scroll down a bit). Anti declares: "The Guardian has no conscience: are Chinese lives worthless?" He then continues:
As for The Guardian's Benjamin Joffe-Walt, how the fuck did he still have to nerve to write this kind of report? Perhaps he is young and does not yet know that reporting in certain areas of China is just like in a war zone. He should not have gone there against the advice of others, and he should not have brought Lu Banglie to the village. Since he was being taken out by the police, why didn't he insist on rescuing Lu Banglie as well? It is alright to beg for mercy when it happened. But the more important thing is that you have a duty and you must assume responsibility for your companion. Or is that Chinese person just a guide dog?
Thus, we the Chinese people are treated like dogs by the government and we are also treated like dogs by certain arrogant and ignorant foreigners. I have no idea how this tragedy can be changed.
Shanghai-based Dutch journalist has his own views on the subject here. China Digital Times has a translation here of another Chinese journalist's views on the situation, focusing also on the risk that Lu took by taking a British reporter into the hot zone.
There are indeed some serious issues about a Western reporter's responsibility for endangering and/or protecting the safety of their sources, interpreters, and guides. There were many times, when I was working in China, when I opted not to report certain stories because doing so would endanger the lives of people involved.
At the same time, I hope this question of a foreign correspondent's responsibility will not become a convenient way of distracting people from the core issue: one of human rights and the suppression of a democracy movement in Taishi.
Will Chinese netizens be successfully manipulated into foreigner-bashing as an acceptable alternative to communist party-bashing?
UPDATE (Tuesday AM EST): The Guardian has an update plus interview with Lu here.