BEIJING (AP) — Local authorities in China's Inner Mongolia region have denied they used force or detained an American reporter when she was questioned at a police station last week.

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The Los Angeles Times said Thursday that one of its reporters was grabbed by the throat and pushed into a cell and held for more than four hours before being forced to leave the area in northern China.

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"There's no instance of the police using both hands to pinch the neck or being detained in a police cell, nor was there any instance of being detained or expelled," the press office for Hohhot, the provincial capital, said in a written response to questions from The Associated Press.

The statement, dated Tuesday, said the reporter was interviewing a pedestrian and accused her of filming or photographing the person without the interviewee's permission. It said the reporter chose to go back to Beijing voluntarily.

In this image made from video taken in August 2020, parents confront authorities outside a school in Tongliao in Northwestern China’s Inner Mongolia region. (AP Photo)

The newspaper's Beijing bureau chief, Alice Su, who is the journalist in question, declined to comment. She was covering protests and class boycotts that had broken out in Inner Mongolia over a move to increase the use of Chinese in schools where Mongolian has been the main language of instruction.

Authorities, who have detained more than 20 people, are trying to clamp down on information about the protests, according to a protester and a U.S.-based activist group that advocates for the rights of ethnic Mongolians.

The incident came at a time of growing pressure on foreign journalists in China.

On Tuesday, the last two journalists working for Australian media in China returned home after police demanded interviews with them and temporarily blocked their departures. They were told they were "persons of interest" into an investigation into an Australian who works for state media in China, according to The Australian Financial Review.

The other Australian, Cheng Lei, has been detained on suspicion of endangering China's national security, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday without elaborating.

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The U.S. and China are currently engaged in a back-and-forth over the treatment of journalists in their respective countries, including restrictions on visas.

Inner Mongolia is a region of 25 million people that borders the country of Mongolia to the north. About 17% of the population is ethnic Mongolian, while the Han make up 79%.

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