Groups of Chinese citizens have harassed foreign journalists in the streets of cities affected by floods over the weekend while covering the ongoing catastrophe affecting large urban and rural conglomerates in the country. According to the accusations, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) orchestrated “a large-scale harassment campaign” on social media.

Foreign journalists reporting on the devastating effects of the floods in China have faced hostile situations in the streets. They have been subjected to fierce smear campaigns on social networks amid a growing nationalist sensitivity driven by the CCP against any negative portrayal of China.

As reported Monday by the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), residents of the city of Zhengzhou on Saturday encouraged residents to “call the police immediately” if they saw a BBC reporter named Robin Brant on the streets.

In recent days, an intense smear campaign on the microblogging platform Weibo has sought to spread criticism against BBC China correspondent Robin Brant for a report questioning the CCP’s policies after at least a dozen people died in a train carriage amid flooding in Zhengzhou.

Some Weibo users have allegedly accused Brant of being a “foreign rumor monger” and “seriously distorting the facts” in his reporting on the floods, according to the HKFP.

“BBC reporter Robin Brant has appeared many times in disaster-hit areas of our city and has seriously distorted the facts. If you find this person, please call the police immediately,” an unidentified user’s Weibo post reportedly read on July 24.

Reporters from the Los Angeles Times and German media outlet Deutsche Welle also faced an angry crowd in Zhengzhou on Saturday, who filmed and questioned them, then accused them of “peddling rumors” and defaming China. They had mistaken the Deutsche Welle reporter for Brant.

Los Angeles Times reporter Alice Su posted on her Twitter account, “This is @mare_porter and me in the streets of Zhengzhou yesterday. We were surrounded by an angry crowd shouting things like this is China, get out of China! I tried to de-escalate by “translating” the crowd’s message.”

“They kept pushing me around yelling at me that I was a bad guy and that I should stop defaming China. One guy [tried] to snatch my phone,” journalist Boelinger accompanying Su wrote in a Twitter post after the altercation.

Stephen McDonell, another BBC correspondent in China, said on Twitter that there was a “clearly orchestrated campaign of harassment,” with a focus on the BBC, that included threats of violence and abuse directed at the families of those working in foreign media on their private phones.

The grievances against journalists come after torrential rains caused devastating floods in the central region of the Asian country. As a result, three dams have already collapsed and another has been dynamited in view of its imminent collapse.

Dozens have been killed by the floods and some 200,000 people have already been evacuated from Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, a massive city of more than 10 million people.

Now all eyes are on the world’s largest dam: the Three Gorges. Last summer, the dam reached the limit of collapse after the biggest flood since its creation in 2003. 

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