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Last two journalists working for Australian media leave China

In this image made from a video, Australian Broadcasting Corp. journalist Bill Birtles arrives at Sydney airport, Australia Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. Birtles and The Australian Financial Review journalist Michael Smith, the last two journalists working for Australian media in China have left the country after police demanded interviews with them, the Australian government and Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported on Tuesday. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The last two journalists working for Australian media in China have left the country after police demanded interviews with them, the Australian government and Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported on Tuesday.

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

Both had sheltered in Australian diplomatic compounds in recent days.

Chinese police arrived at Birtles’ 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 Birtles spoke to police.

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.

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,” Birtles said.

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