Press Freedom in China Bulletin: January

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on Feb 8, 2016.

To contribute news or information, email ifjchina@ifj-asia.org. To visit the IFJ’s China Campaign page, go to www.ifj.org.

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In this bulletin:

  1. Five Hong Kong publishers missing since October, 2015
  2. Two Hong Kong journalists detained while working
  3. IFJ to launch annual China Press Freedom Report
  4. Communist Party needs to use internet for publicity
  5. China Passes Sweeping Anti-Terrorism Law
  6. French journalist denied press card
  7. Prominent human rights lawyer sentenced to three years
  8. Procuratorate alters conviction after journalist requests compensation  
  9. RTHK removed commentary programmes aroused worries
  10. World Press Freedom Prize 2016 is inviting for nominations

1)    Five Hong Kong publishers missing since October, 2015

On December 30 2015, Lee Bo was reported missing outside his warehouse after he received a call from a buyer who ordered more than a dozen of so-called ‘sensitive books’ in Chai Wan, Hong Kong. Lee was the fifth person of Mighty Current Publishing Ltd and Causeway Bay Bookstores reported missing after four other shareholders and staff members went missing in October, in Thailand, Shenzhen or Dongguan.

The Hong Kong Government and two of Chinese People’s Political consultative representatives sent a letters to Mainland authorities calling for an investigation into the disappearances, but no official reply has been received. On January 5, Wang Yi, the Foreign Minister of China held a press conference with the Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom to Beijing. During the conference, the Foreign Minister from the UK commented on the case, noting that Lee, a British passport holder, was ‘first and foremost a Chinese citizen”, which raised concerns for many Hong Kong citizens who have dual nationalities.  

More recently, a video and two letters apparently written by Lee Bo were sent to his wife, a pro-Beijing writer, saying that Lee has chosen to return to the Mainland. In the second letter Lee said people were making a fuss for no reason and asked people not to hold protests on January 10.and said “how he could come back to Hong Kong? “.On January 10, 6000 people marched to the Chinese Liaison Office, an agent of the Mainland Central Government, demanding the Central Government uphold the “one country two systems” ideology and ensure that Mainland officials cannot execute their duties in Hong Kong, which is a violation of the law.

Lee Bo, Gui Minhai, Lu Bo, Cheung Chi-ping and Lee Wing-Kee worked at Mighty Current Publishing Ltd and Causeway Bay Bookstores. In the last few years, the companies published a lot of political gossip and criticism about President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party and many Mainland tourists brought the book back to China. In the last two years, the customs department on the Mainland increased checks of tourists’ luggage and confiscated so-called sensitive books.

The British, Swedish, America and European Council have expressed their concerns about the forced disappearance case. In 2014, veteran Hong Kong journalists Wang Jianmin and Guo Zhongxiao, who ran magazines specialising in mainland political affairs, were charged in Shenzhen with the allegation of operating an illegal publication in Mainland. Wang is an American citizen. The court trial in the end of 2015 but no sentence was delivered yet.

2)    Two Hong Kong journalists detained while working

Two Hong Kong-based Apple Daily journalists were detained by police with the reason of “suspected of loitering” when they were exercising their reporting duties on December 24. The two journalists were reporting on Eddie Ng, the Secretary for Education. The journalists said they immediately showed their press cards and requested police call their office to verify their identities however police insisted to refuse their request and took them back to police station. They were detained in the police station for 90 minutes and then released without charge. The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) strongly condemned the detention and on December 28, HKJA, the Hong Kong News Photographers Association and Independent Commentators Association issued a complaint letter to the Commissioner of Police.

3)    IFJ to launch annual China Press Freedom report

On January 30, 2016, the IFJ will launch its annual China Press Freedom report. The report documents the challenges and success stories for China’s media throughout 2015. This year’s report documents the suppression and harassment of media workers in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, and for the first time, the report documents the cases of over 50 detained and jailed media workers and journalists in China. The report will be launched at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong and will be available online. For more information please contact IFJ (ifj@if-asia.org).

4)    Communist Party needs to use internet for publicity  

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) issued a statement after a two-day meeting on January 5 and 6, saying “we have to improve the publicity of the new thoughts and concepts of the governance of the CPC central leadership with Xi Jinping as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee”. Xinhua, state-owned media, said the CAC also called for more work to be done to improve cyberspace governance, with measures to ensure global cyberspace governance meshed with Chinese opinions and plans. It admitted the online environment had “improved” in the past three years. The National Online Propaganda Work Conference, held on January 5 and 6, emphasised that 2016 will be a “year of innovation” for the Cyberspace Administration of China.

5)    China Passes Sweeping Anti-Terrorism Law

On December 27, China’s National People’s Congress passed the nation’s first anti-terrorism law. Authorities began calling for counter-terrorism legislation May 2015 as a controversial nationwide “war on terror” was launched in response to increased incidents of violence. Previous drafts of the law, received criticism for containing an overly broad definition of terrorism, associated data disclosure requirements, and the potential to erode human rights. However those criticisms were not heeded in the final version. The final version stipulates that companies must release “technical interfaces” and assist with decryption should security agencies deem it necessary to avert or investigate a terrorist attack. At the same time, media are not allowed to report on terrorism attacks unless the subject governing body allows them to do so.

6)    French journalist denied press card

On December 25, the Foreign Ministry singled out French journalist, Ursula Gauthier, as having a ‘typical of the West’s double standard’ on terrorism after she wrote an article for L’Obs, a French weekly, regarding human rights violations in Xinjiang. Gauthier was summoned to talks with the Foreign Ministry under the International Press Centre after she published the article. Gauthier said the authority promised to issue a press card if she made a public apology about her reports claiming she had ‘hurt Chinese people’s feeling’. She refused to issue an apology and on December 31 she left China after her working visa is terminated.

7)    Prominent human rights lawyer sentenced to three years

Prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqang, 50, was sentenced to three years imprisonment, but the sentence was converted to probation, following allegations that he posted several messages online which caused ‘ incitement to racial hatred’ and ‘picking quarrels and stirring up trouble’. Pu’s case had drawn a lot of supporters, with local and foreign journalists and representatives from several embassies attending his court case in Beijing. However numerous police officers forced supporters to leave the court and surrounding streets during the case. Philip Wen, an Australian journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald was pushed by a person believed to be an agent from the security bureau, as he was trying to report from outside the courthouse.       

8)    Procuratorate alters conviction after journalist requests compensation 

Veteran journalist, Liu Hu, was released from police custody, citing not enough evidence to charge, as directed by the Procuratorate Department in September 2015. Following his release, Liu requested compensation for being detained for almost a year, as according to the Chinese law. Unfortunately, Liu said the Procuratorate Department suddenly changed their decision from ‘no evidence to prove’ to ‘committed trivial crime’ after his request. Liu said he had been summoned to talk with senior officials of the Department on several occasions. They tried to persuade him to change his mind which he refused to do. Liu was arrested by police in 2013 due to article he had published about several senior government officials.

9)    RTHK removed commentary programmes aroused worries

In early 2016, a series of commentary programmes were removed from Channel Two of Radio Television of Hong Kong, a public broadcaster of Hong Kong, aroused suspicion of self- censored at RTHK. On 7 January, RTHK union issued a statement expressed their worries about a program host was changed and two other commentary programmes were removed without knowing the reason. The union suspected a self-censorship was exercised because there is no replacement of similar programmes were placed. The union demanded an explanation from the senior management.

10) Calls for nominations for UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize

The UNESCO is calling for nominations for the 2016 UNESCO/ Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Anyone who would like to nominate any journalist or organization who has made a notable contribution to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, especially if this involved risk. The deadline will be on 15 February 2016. You may visit their site http://en.unesco.org/events/unescoguillermo-cano-world-press-freedom-prize-2016.  If you have any enquiry, you may write to Ms Sylvie Coudray, Chief of the Section for Freedom of Expression in the Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development in Communication and Information Sector s.coudray@unesco.org.