Memories----and Scars----of Tian An Men Square : Journalism: ABC correspondent Todd Carrel is recovering from severe injuries inflicted by Chinese police as he covered the third anniversary of the Tian An Men Square revolt.


The movers came quietly in mid-February, packing up the last of the belongings of ABC News correspondent Todd Carrel and his family for shipment home to San Francisco.

This was no ordinary end-of-tour move. Carrel, 41, has ended his China posting because he is still recuperating from severe head and spinal injuries inflicted by Chinese police June 3.

Carrel was one of about a half-dozen Beijing-based correspondents assaulted by plainclothes police while attempting to cover the scene in Tian An Men Square on the third anniversary of the 1989 army crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

At the time, ABC News aired a report by Carrel on the arrest of a Chinese protester and the beatings. ABC News President Roone Arledge sent a formal letter of protest to the Chinese embassy in Washington.

Carrel, while worried about possible internal injuries, was hopeful that he might only have severe bruises. He kept working for two days after the incident. A cameraman for the Tokyo Broadcasting System, Atsushi Yamagiwa, had the bloodiest injury: a cut lip that required six stitches. Little media attention focused specifically on Carrel.

But Carrel today remains semi-bedridden, with hydrocephalus--too much fluid around the brain--herniated disks in his neck and lower-spinal contusions.

"I've been picking up since December," Carrel said from San Francisco in a recent telephone interview. "I'm able to walk, but I still limp a lot. My feet hurt, my muscles hurt. I'm able to sit only 30 to 40 minutes at a time before I need to stand up and stretch. I'm basically moving around like an old man."

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Beijing, which first protested the beatings last summer, sent the Chinese Foreign Ministry another letter last week noting the severity of Carrel's injuries and renewing its request for an investigation into the case.

At a press conference last Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Li Jianying said authorities had already investigated the incident and that "there was no such thing as police brutality." He repeated previous government portrayals of the beatings as private conflicts between "Chinese citizens" and foreign reporters. Li expressed hope for a speedy recovery for Carrel but did not issue an apology.

The incident began when Carrel, carrying a small video camera, went to Tian An Men Square to film footage for coverage of the anniversary of the massacre. On the night of June 3-4, 1989, the Chinese army shot its way into Beijing against crowds of citizens blocking its path. Troops killed about 1,000 people, according to Western intelligence estimates.

Every year, a few brave Chinese stage tiny protests in memory of those who died. And every year, journalists try to be in position to view whatever may happen. At the same time, Chinese authorities station hundreds of plainclothes police in Tian An Men Square, some equipped with video cameras. They are obvious by their dress, hairstyles, demeanor and long hours on duty. Only the uninitiated can fail to notice them.

"We had been told, as some others had heard, that someone might be planning a protest," recalled Carrel, who had been covering China for ABC since 1985. "We were looking for that and any other disturbances or action to mark the anniversary."

Carrel said he suddenly spotted two policemen running, and saw that "there was a man who was trying to unfurl some kind of banner." Carrel ran toward the action.

"As I got 10 feet away, I was surrounded by plainclothes policemen, who without warning began beating me viciously," he said. "There was a man in front of me wearing dark glasses, with short-cropped hair, who was flailing me over the head with a bandanna filled with rocks or leadshot--presumably rocks. Something very hard. He splintered the top of the camera--the eyepiece of the camera. He continued to flail me over the head again and again."

Carrel said about 10 plainclothes officers surrounded him and beat him, and he mainly tried to protect his head.

Carrel and two journalists from Canadian Television (CTV)--correspondent Jim Munson and cameraman Mike Nolan, both of whom have now left Beijing--were then taken by uniformed police across the square to a police jeep.

Once inside, "they doubled me over like a jackknife, they pulled my arm up (behind) my back and put pressure on my back, jamming my head forward toward the floor," he said. "They were putting pressure on me, and it hurt like crazy."

While under detention for about three hours, "I was asking repeatedly whether I was under arrest or had broken any law," Carrel said. "The answer was no. They were simply holding me."

The next day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wu Jianmin, rather than offering any sort of apology for the violence, accused Carrel, Yamagiwa and the other correspondents of lawbreaking. He cited an unknown or nonexistent law, claiming that journalists were required to obtain advance permission for any reporting in the square.

About three days after the beating, feeling "nauseous, dizzy and extremely uncomfortable," Carrel flew to Hong Kong for a medical checkup. The doctor thought he did not have any broken bones, internal injuries or concussion, and Carrel returned to Beijing.

"During that week in Hong Kong, it was extremely difficult for me to walk," Carrel said. "It was clear to everybody I'd really been knocked around, but the specific location and extent of the injury was never very clear."

By early July, Carrel had "shooting pains" in his legs, and doctors advised him to return to the United States. He has been there on medical leave ever since.

"I had a rough several months, with lots of pain, mostly being in bed a lot, barely able to move at all," Carrel said. "Eventually, they started doing these fancy MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) things."

The MRI scan showed "swelling in the brain--intra-cranial trauma that's resulted in the hydrocephalus," Carrel said. "They define hydrocephalus as 'lack of appropriate drainage of the cerebral-spinal fluid around the brain.' Basically, they think indeed I did have a concussion."

Carrel said he is unsure what the future holds.

"Because of my injuries, I'm unable to go back to my post in China, and in fact my doctors have warned me not to go back because of the potential for suffering physical violence again," he said. "They don't want me to be hit in the head. . . . My hope is to recover. I'm very concerned to recover my health. And I would love to be reassigned in Asia again at some point."

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