Press Freedom in China Bulletin: AUGUST

A silent vigil in Hong Kong following Liu Xiaobo's death. Credit: Isaac Lawrence/AFP

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Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on September 8, 2017.

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In this bulletin:

1) “Each journalist was monitored by at least two people”: Liu Xiaobo’s case 

2) Journalist who republished state media jailed for four years

3) China beef up VPN control

4) Online chat crackdown  

5) Winnie the Pooh under surveillance

6) Hong Kong PEN established, overcoming challenges  

7) South China Morning Post suddenly withdraws Xi article

8) Next Media Group sells most influential magazine


1) “Each journalist was monitored by at least two people”: Liu Xiaobo’s case 

On July 13, Liu Xiaobo’s, China’s only Nobel Peace Prize recipient, died on medical parole at the First Hospital of China Medical University in Shenyang. Liu died after a three month battle with terminal liver cancer. He was diagnosed in late May, while serving a nine year prison sentence for ‘subversion of state power’. After his diagnosis, Liu was granted medical parole; however international organisations demanded he be granted permission to travel overseas for treatment, which was not granted.

The government crackdown surrounding Liu’s case is illustrative of the efforts by the Chinese government to suppress freedom of expression across China. His medical condition was disclosed at least a month after he was diagnosed, and the hospital did not announce his death for over six hours. Yet, more concerning, was the fact that no state-owned media reported on Liu’s situation or medical condition. In his death, a handful of stories were published, yet all referenced his work which saw him arrested. In his final days, journalists were denied access to Liu and his wife, while on social media, posts were quickly removed.

Journalists covering the story, regularly reported that they were being followed and monitored. One journalist told the IFJ that “Each journalist was followed by at least two people, where ever the journalist go.”

On July 26, Li, a driver for Hong Kong-based Cable Television on the Mainland, was arrested by Xinhui police after he reported that several activists in Guangzhou has gathered to pay a sea burial for Liu on July 19. He was released three days later. A journalist told the IFJ that anyone who participated in any form of memorial for Liu or talked about Liu in accepting media interviews were interrogated by Mainland police.

2) Journalist who republished state media jailed for four years

A journalist who documented and republished state media reports was sentenced to four years on August 2. Lu Yuyu was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” by the local court in Dali, Yunnan. Lu has lodged an appeal, while his girlfriend, Li Tingyu was released on probation.

Lu had been documenting protests across China for several years. According to his lawyer, his information came from all state-controlled media publications, Li was simply documenting and then reposting the information on twitter, under an account called ‘Not News’. The pair were arrested in June 2016, and have been in police custody since then. According to Radio Free Asia, many activists have voiced outrage over the case, as all the documented incidents were genuine. None of the information was fabricated.

Several scholars also voice concern, with once telling the IFJ that its devastating because it is just the act of ‘republication’, and if that is not allowed, what can people do in the future.

3) China beef up VPN control

In mid-July, netizens and mobile phone users on the Mainland complained that they weren’t able to access Whatsapp through their smart phones and VPN services. At the same time, a rumor surfaced that that Ministry of Industry and Information Technology had all internet companies to stop unregistered VPN services on February 1, 2018. The information is yet to be confirmed or clarified.

According to several netizens, some had been interviewed by local police over their use of VPN services after they posted messages on social media about the limited access. Bloggers said that police threatened the shut down their accounts if they continued to use VPNs.

On July 29, according to the NYT and Reuters, Apple had decided to remove two VPN services from the apple story. Apple said that the two companies have contained some information which was against Chinese law. Express VPN and StarVPN came out and condemned the decision.  

On August 1, Radio Free Asia reported that the Cyberspace Administration in Beijing has requested meetings with major website administrators in regards to ‘eight chaotic items online that should be rectified’. The ‘chaotic items’ referred to new report published with approval, reports challenging social moral orders, disseminating rumours, plagiarism and marketing content. The article also referenced a report from NYT, which said an email was sent to all members of the Communist Party which said they should not visit ‘illegal websites’ such as the NYT. Many believe that this is part of the preparation for the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China which is scheduled for October.

4) Online chat crackdown

A) On July 25, Shi Jipeng, Associate Professor of Beijing Normal University was sacked by the University for expressing several anti-political discipline opinions on social media. According to Shi’s microblog account, he queried several politically related topics such as patriotic education in China. When the news was released on August 4, all articles about Shi were banned for ‘violating relevant regulations and laws’ but without specific details.  

     B) According to Radio Free Asia on 26 July news was released regarding at least 30 people who were detained in January 2017 by the Bortala Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture police. The report said that they were detained after police accused them of discussing immigrating to Kazakhstan from Xinjiang on WeChat. The detainees included civil servants and students.

5) Winnie the Pooh under surveillance

According to AFP, on July 17, cartoon character, Winnie the Pooh, was banned online in China after a satirical image of President Xi Jinping as the cartoon appeared. The ban came just a day before an animation ‘Dahufa’ was criticised by the Chinese Communist Youth League, which argued that the films were full of ‘political metaphors’ and had ‘evil intentions’. Several commentators said that the Party had used various methods to criticise all kinds of ideology in order to force people to keep their mouths shut.

6) Hong Kong PEN established, overcoming challenges

Jason Ng, a Hong Kong lawyer, has queried Hong Kong’s banking system, as PEN Hong Kong has been labelled as ‘politically sensitive’ organisation and no bank has granted them a bank account. Ng, one of the founders of PEN Hong Kong said that they founded the organisation so that they can express their opinions freely and work to defend freedom of speech in Hong Kong. In a recent interview, Ng said that PEN Hong Kong was established in November 2016, but that it took over three months to be registered under Hong Kong law.

7) South China Morning Post suddenly withdraws Xi article

At 4 am on July 20, the South China Morning Post suddenly removed a column from a veteran finance journalist, which linked the Chinese President to a Singaporean investorer. SCMP said that the column “did not meet our standards for publication because it includes multiple unverified accusations”. The sudden removal immediately drew the media’s attention because the article was initially published online on July 18 and then was due to published in the paper

Ying Chan, the former director of the News Department at Hong Kong University, said: “It is intriguing, if not stunning. Is the Post setting a new standard for opinionated columns?”

Shirley Yam, the columnist, and the Editor-in-Chief of SCMP did make any further comments after the withdrawal.

8) Next Media Group sells most influential magazine

As Next Media Group continues to outsource work without consulting its in-house unions, the board decided to sell Next Magazine of Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as four other print magazines to W Bros. The sale was estimated to be worth HKD 500 million. The deal was immediately criticised by staff, largely due to the person linked to the sales. In an interview the following day in Sing Tao Daily, Kenny Wee the buyer, claimed that the investment was out of his own pocket, and referred to staff as ‘a few bad tumours’ who were ‘bias’ and would be removed. In an interview with Apple Daily, Wee mentioned that the marketing system would be changed in the future, and that finance journalists might have to help the marketing department find income. 

IFJ Asia-Pacific         




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