INTERNATIONAL

‘Australian spy agency targeted Chinese scribes’

Beijing claimed on Wednesday that Australia’s intelligence agency questioned foreign correspondents working for Chinese state-run media, seizing computers and mobile phones in raids apparently linked to a billowing spy scandal.

The accusation, the latest scrap in a diplomatic falling-out that spans security, trade and media freedoms, follows an investigation by Beijing into Australian journalists based in China.

The last two foreign correspondents working for Australian media in China, Bill Birtles and Michael Smith, fled on Monday fearing arrest, while another — Cheng Lei, who worked as an anchor for Chinese state TV — is being detained under “national security” laws.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry added a new layer to the intrigue, saying Australia-based journalists from Xinhua, China News Service and the China Media group were the target of raids by local intelligence agents in late June.

Four journalists were “interrogated... on the grounds of a possible breach of Australia’s anti-foreign interference laws,” Mr. Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing.

They were questioned and had their phones, computers and even their children’s tablets confiscated.

“Australia’s actions causes serious damage to the physical and mental health of the journalists and their families,” he added.

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