The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) on Tuesday condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the detention of Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin Service journalists.

VOA’s Yibing Feng and Allen Ai were taken into custody on Monday in Jinan, Shandong province as they interviewed scholar Sun Wenguang, who was also taken away by police during an on-air interview with the US-backed broadcaster earlier this month. According to VOA, police entered the apartment that they were in and separately detained the two reporters. They were then reportedly held for over six hours, before being released on Tuesday morning.

Feng Yibing Voice of America
Feng Yibing in Beijing. Photo: VOA.

VOA said that police took the reporters to the outskirts of the city and disabled their phones before letting them go.

The FCCC said in response that police should provide a full and transparent account of the reason for their arrests: “Journalism is not a crime in China, and Chinese regulations state that ‘foreign journalists may interview anyone who gives prior consent,’ with no requirements for prior permission by local authorities,” it said.

“The FCCC calls on China to adhere to its own rules and regulations in the treatment of journalists.”

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China ranks 176th on the 2018 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, ranked only above Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea.

According to an annual survey by the FCCC, 40 per cent of respondents felt reporting conditions for foreign journalists had deteriorated in 2017, compared with 29 per cent in 2016. The club also found that the Chinese government is increasingly using the visa renewal process to pressure correspondents whose coverage it does not like.

Swedish journalist Jojje Olsson was denied a Chinese visa renewal last year. Olsson told HKFP that he believed his work on detained China-born Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai was what prompted the government to take action against him.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.