By Donald R. Winslow
© 2008 News Photographer magazine
NEW YORK, NY- NPPA member and photojournalist Jeffrey Rae is safe in Manhattan
today after spending four days in a Beijing jail for trying to photograph pro-Tibet
protesters at the Olympic games, and the story he tells about how he was treated
by Chinese police comes as no surprise to those familiar with China's history
or their police.
Despite being physically held down in an interrogation chair by a metal lap
bar, the chair bolted to the floor, the whole apparatus contained within a cage,
while Chinese police seated at desks outside the cage interrogated him for 22
hours straight, somewhere in Beijing in a basement warren of interrogation rooms
underneath a restaurant or a hotel, not at a police station, Rae says, "I
was probably treated as well as I was because I'm an American. I was certainly
treated much better than they would have treated a Chinese journalist."
The photojournalist has yet to be contacted by anyone representing the U.S.
government or State Department to ask about how he was treated, or about his
incarceration, since he landed back in New York yesterday.
"You would think that when you're getting off the plane [in New York] someone
from the government would be standing there wanting to know what happened,"
Rae said. "I guess that's not the case."
Rae, a photojournalist who was in Beijing to document the activities of pro-Tibet
protesters at the Olympics, says he and the protesters from the group Students
for a Free Tibet were taken into captivity last Thursday when they came out
of a restaurant.
"We were meeting with some people who were planning the protests, to get
information on when these things were going to take place," Rae told News
Photographer magazine today. "From what we can piece together, someone
must have been following us."
Rae says when they left the restaurant, "There were a ton of police there
waiting to take us away. And CCTV, the state-run television, was there too,
photographing us. I'm told we were all over Chinese TV."
The protesters, along with Rae and video blogger Brian Conley, both 28, were
then taken to the interrogation basement.
"We were held in separate rooms, and non-stop interrogated for 22 hours.
The major issue they had with me and Conley was that what we were doing, taking
and broadcasting photographs, was a worse crime than the people who were holding
a sign, because we were broadcasting it for the world to see. And that's a bigger
crime in China than the protesters, who were breaking the law."
Rae's interrogator started hitting him after about 16 hours of questioning.
"He started slapping me on the side, going back and forth hitting me. It
wasn't that hard, but after 16 hours of being questioned and no sleep, it sort
of shakes you up."
Then there was the moment when the interrogator said to Rae, "We're not
sure whether to slit your throat, or to shoot you." The photojournalist
said at that point, "He was in my face, grilling me."
At the detention site Rae says there was a 22-year-old Chinese man in their
cell who told them that he was afraid he was about to be sent to a work camp
for two years where he would be tortured. He was being held, he said, because
he practiced the religion Falun Gong, which the Chinese government has declared
"The next day, they came and got him and took him away," Rae said,
assuming he was indeed taken to a work camp.
Rae's parents, Bill and Nancy Rae of King of Prussia, PA, had contacted the
U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in China, and Senators Bob Casey (D-PA)
and Arlen Specter (R-PA) asking for help gaining information about their son
and urging them to press the Chinese government for his release.
Some news reports say a diplomat from the U.S. Embassy in China urged the Chinese
to release Rae and Conley on Saturday, and that consular officials met with
the detained Americans at the end of last week.
Rae and Conley were released for deportation Sunday night during the closing
ceremonies for the Olympics. They flew to Los Angeles and then on to New York,
but Rae's trip out of China wasn't without an additional problem.
"I already had a return airline ticket, but they would not let me use it,"
Rae said. "They forced me to buy a $4,000 one-way return ticket to leave."
They made Rae use his NPPA Bank of America MasterCard to make the purchase.
"So today I finally got through to someone at a higher level in the Bank
of America fraud department." Rae told them what happened, and how he was
forced to use the card and to buy the ticket. "They're not going to make
me pay for the ticket," a thankful Rae said. "They cancelled the card."
Rae is a 2003 graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology with a photojournalism
degree. He interned at the Cedar Rapids Gazette after college and joined NPPA
Posting date: 3/Oct/2008
Original article date: 26/Aug/2008
Category: Media Report