Chinese Police Illegally Copy Journalists’ Reporting Materials

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly condemns the behavior of Chinese police in Maoming who harassed two Hong Kong journalists and illegally copied all the information on their computers and cell phones while they were reporting on the public outcry against plans to build an industrial plant. This is the first time the IFJ has heard of such an incident occurring in China.

A number of Hong Kong journalists were attempting to cover the rallies in Maoming City, Guangdong Province, where protestors have rallied for a week against plans by the local government to add a paraxylene plant to the city’s petrochemical operations. On the night of April 2, journalists from Hong Kong’s Apple Daily were detained and interrogated by police and officers of the provincial propaganda department. The journalists were forced to sign a letter of repentance, and then escorted out of Maoming by police. On April 3, journalists from Hong Kong’s Ming Pao received similar treatment.

A journalist told the IFJ: “Around five officers from the provincial propaganda department went at night to the hotel where journalists were staying. They copied all the materials from the computers and cell phones. At the same time, they deleted all the images that the photographer had taken at the scene.”

The journalist said the officers accused the reporters of illegal news reporting because they had not obtained press accreditation from the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong.

Ta Kung Pao, a state-owned daily newspaper in Hong Kong, reported the illegal treatment of the Ming Pao journalists the next day, but the report was later deleted from Ta Kung Pao’s official portal website without any reason being given.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) said the Maoming officials had directly suppressed press freedom. The HKJA urged the Central Government of China to protect the rights of the Hong Kong media. 

The IFJ said: “The Maoming police and officers of the Guangdong province propaganda department should be condemned for their actions. They have no right to prevent the media from exercising their duties or to deprive them of freedom of movement. In addition, there is absolutely no reason to access the journalistic materials and to infringe the journalists’ privacy on the pretext of ‘illegal news reporting’.

“The authorities’ actions are completely out of line. They not only infringed the Chinese Constitution but also violated an open promise made by several very senior leaders, including President Xi Jinping, that people have a right to demand that the government be accountable.”

The IFJ urges the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-Ying, to act on his promise to defend Hong Kong press freedom. He should demand an explanation from the Maoming City government, and negotiate with the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office to quash the requirement that Hong Kong media must apply for press accreditation when they report in China. This requirement contravenes the Chinese Constitution.

We also urge the President of China, Xi Jinping, and Premier Li Keqiang to demand an investigation into whether the Maoming police and provincial propaganda department officers abused their powers, and then to make the report public.

The protests in Maoming began on Sunday March 30, when people rallied to express their concern that the proposed paraxylene plant could cause health problems. On April 1, more than 1000 people marched with banners and police responded violently. No relevant report was reported by Mainland media, and messages posted online were deleted after a restrictive order was issued by the authorities.