Last two journalists working for Australian media leave China

Last two journalists working for Australian media leave China
In this image made from a video, Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist Bill Birtles speaks to the media on his arrival at Sydney airport, Australia (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)

The last two journalists working for Australian media in China have left the country after police demanded interviews with them, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has reported.

ABC’s Bill Birtles and The Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith landed in Sydney after flying from Shanghai on Monday night, the broadcaster said.

Both had sheltered in Australian diplomatic compounds in recent days.

Chinese police arrived at Mr Birtles’s doorstep last week, demanded he submit to questioning and told him he was banned from leaving the country, the ABC reported.

Australian and Chinese officials negotiated for the travel ban to be lifted if Mr Birtles spoke to police.

Australian Financial Review journalist Michael Smith arrives at Sydney Airport (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)

The journalists left after Australia revealed last week that Australian citizen Cheng Lei, business news anchor for CGTN, China’s English-language state media channel, had been detained.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed that her government had provided consular support to the two journalists to assist their return to Australia.

“Our embassy in Beijing and Consulate-General in Shanghai engaged with Chinese government authorities to ensure their wellbeing and return to Australia,” she said in a statement.

Australia’s travel warning of the risk of arbitrary detention in China “remains appropriate and unchanged,” she added.

Mr Birtles told reporters at Sydney airport that his departure was a “whirlwind and … not a particularly good experience.”

“It’s very disappointing to have to leave under those circumstances and it’s a relief to be back in a country with genuine rule of law,” Mr Birtles said.

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