IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin: September 2014

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on October 1, and contributions are most welcome.

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In this bulletin:

1) Hong Kong media under pressure in lead-up to decision on Hong Kong voting system

2) Pro-democracy radio station in Hong Kong sacks host for his political views

3) Media discovers “paid protestors” in anti-Occupy Movement rally

4) Macau judiciary police abandon political neutrality in detaining journalists

5) CCTV journalist attacked by staff members of giant state-owned corporation

6) Journalist investigating exploitation of works roughed up by security guards

7) Chinese journalist with Germany’s Deutsche Welle terminated

8) Cartoonist’s online accounts shut down for satirical cartoon

9) Family of Inner Mongolia political prisoner lose access to communication channels

10) Three bloggers punished after posting on deadly Xinjang attack

11) Writer detained in connection with detention of outspoken journalist Gao Yu

12) Independent film festival in Beijing shut down

13) China Central Television staff resign after station changes salary system

14) China speeds up media integration to disseminate Communist Party ideology

1) Hong Kong media under pressure in lead-up to decision on Hong Kong voting system

On August 31, tension came to a head over the voting system for the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee decided that voters will have a choice of only two or three candidates, all of whom must have received the support of more than 50 per cent of a 1200-member special electoral committee. Critics say the decision does not meet international standards of democracy. The Occupy Central Movement, which is fighting for “genuine universal suffrage”, said: “The aim of ensuring that the Chief Executive election in 2017 meets international standards was brutally strangled by the Standing Committee.” The tension between the Movement and the Government immediately escalated. In the week before the Standing Committee announced its decision, tension escalated in Hong Kong over press freedom and freedom of expression.

a) On August 27, Scholarism, a student activist group, attempted to send promotional materials to 80,000 households explaining the meaning of civil disobedience. The move was banned by Hong Kong Post Office on the grounds that the materials included illegal content. Human Rights Monitor of Hong Kong accused the Post Office of making a political decision; however the Post Office denied the claim.

b) On August 28, several officers of the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) searched the home of Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy media mogul; Mark Simon, a top aide to Lai; and Lee Cheuk-Yan, a Hong Kong legislative councilor who support the Occupy Central Movement. ICAC said the officers were investigating political donations made by Jimmy Lai from 2012 to 2014. On September 5, Oriental Daily reported that the Inland Revenue office was also investigating Lai. In July, Hong Kong media received several leaks of information from an unidentified person disclosing Lai’s personal emails and bank transfer receipts. Lai and several legislative councilors, including Lee, immediately admitted that donations were indeed made.

c) On August 29, Edward Chin Chi-Kin, a columnist for Hong Kong Economic Journal (HKEJ), received an email saying his weekly column would be cancelled because the page was to be redesigned. Chin, an outspoken hedge-fund manager, leads Occupy Central's Finance and Banking Professional Group, which comprises about 80 of the city's banking and financial high-fliers. HKEJ management said it had been planning the move for two months. Chin, who has been writing the column for nine years, called HKEJ’s Editor-in-Chief, Alice Kwok Yim-Ming, but she had turned off her mobile phone. Chin said: “It’s a political decision. It’s highly political to axe my column right now. They know my pro-democracy stance.” The Independent Commentators Association, a Hong Kong group that advocates for media freedom and diversity, said the HKEJ could not escape suspicion that political pressure had influenced the editorial decision, because “objectively HKEJ has lost the columns of someone who supports the views of Occupy Central”. On September 2, one of HKEJ’s founders, Lam Hang-Chi, who is also a columnist for the journal, announced he had sold all his shares in HKEJ to Clermont Media Ltd, an offshore trust company controlled by Richard Li, who owns the majority of HKEJ. Richard Li is the son of Asia’s richest man, Li Ka-Shing, who has extensive investment in China.

d) On August 30, Hong Kong-based newspaper Mingpao carried a news report about Occupy Central, but in its Canadian edition the title was changed to “Occupy Movement is classified as anti-state power”. The Canadian version also included an interview with Chen Zuoer, the former deputy director of Beijing's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, which did not appear in the original article. Chen, who is seen as close to Beijing, used the interview to heavily criticise the Occupy Movement.

e) On September 1, Li Fei, the deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, flew from Beijing to Hong Kong to explain the decision at the AsiaWorld-Expo. The Hong Kong Police Department tightened up security at the expo, deploying thousands of police officers. A journalist with Hong Kong-based Apple Daily was dragged away by two officers, who said he did not follow the correct route back to the press zone. Many journalists complained that they were verbally abused outside the venue by more than a dozen people supporting Beijing’s stance. Several journalists were attacked by persons with umbrellas outside the venue. One man tried to block a photographer, saying he had rights to his own image. The man spoke Mandarin Chinese, rather than Cantonese, which is the common language of Hong Kong.

2) Pro-democracy radio station in Hong Kong sacks host for his political views

Eric Ng, the host of a Hong Kong Radio D100 music programme, had his contract suddenly terminated after he insisted on becoming the host of an August 17 rally against the Occupy Movement. Morris Ho, one of the founding partners of D100, admitted that Ng was terminated because he insisted on becoming the host of the anti-Occupy rally. Ho said there was an ideological difference between Ng and D100, and Ng’s decision had upset some members of the audience. Another founding partner, Albert Cheng, admitted that he had warned Ng not to act as host of the rally some time earlier, but Ng had wanted to honour his promise. The IFJ Asia Pacific Office said: “It is outrageous that a pro-democracy online media outlet should interfere with the personal life of a contracted employee. The media outlet claims to be upholding democracy, and they cannot simply dislike or reject someone whose voice is in the minority. To be good managers of a media outlet, they should truly respect the rights of individuals, including their right to hold their own views.”

3) Media discovers “paid protestors” in anti-Occupy Movement rally

Tens of thousands of people turned out in Hong Kong on August 17 to protest against the Occupy Central Movement. The Alliance for Peace and Democracy, which organized the rally, claimed to have mustered 193,000 participants. Hong Kong media said the rally had involved many “Mandarin Chinese” and “paid protestors”, and that the organisers gave away “free meals” and “free travel”. However, a spokesperson for organizer refused to admit to the allegations and accused Hong Kong Cable TV of false reporting. In addition, the rally organizer demanded that the media produce evidence to prove the claims. The Hong Kong Journalists Association, an affiliate of the IFJ, issued a statement regretting that the organizer had made an irresponsible statement. Cable TV also issued a statement to refute the rally organizer’s accusation. The Alliance changed its attitude and promised it would investigate the case. Several days later, it insisted there had been no “paid protestors”.

4) Macau judiciary police abandon political neutrality in detaining journalists

The Macau Judiciary Police abandoned political neutrality in detaining two journalists on August 29 after their online media outlet published an image containing a police logo. The deputy publisher of Macau Concealers, Choi Chi-chio, and a journalism intern, Leung Ka-wai, were detained on the accusation that the outlet had illegally published the logo of the police department. Under Macau law, it is a crime to publish a police logo or an image of a public servant’s uniform with the intention of suggesting the logo or the uniform belong to a particular person. On August 29, Macau Concealers published an image which appeared to show that a man casting his vote via the internet in an unofficial “civil referendum” was a plain clothes police officer. In the image, unidentified people showed the purported officer’s work permit, which contained a police logo. The Macau Journalists Association said this was not the first time that the media had published the police logo, but until this incident the police had not lodged any complaints. When the “referendum” was launched on August 24, police banned it and detained the organizer, Jason Chao, and four other volunteers. On August 31, Apple Daily journalists and photographers attempted to report on the official election of the Chief Executive of Macau by the 400 members of a special electoral committee. They were denied entry to the venue on the grounds that they did not have accreditation. Apple Daily said they had applied for a permit to Press Office of Macau Government in mid-August.

5) CCTV journalist attacked by staff members of giant state-owned corporation

On August 16, Ma Lingfeng of China Central Television (CCTV), a state media outlet, was harassed, blocked and attacked by a staff member of the China Railway Construction Corporation when he was trying to report on a landslide that trapped five construction workers. The landslide occurred on a site where the corporation is building a tunnel in Yuzhong County, Lanzhou, Gansu Province. The railway construction body is also known as China Railway Shisiju Group Corporation (CRSGC). According to a report in Beijing News, Ma was suddenly pushed to the ground by a CRSGC staffer while he was making a phone call, and the man took Ma’s mobile phone. When the man noticed that a cameraman was filming, he tried to take away the camera. After Ma called the police, six men surrounded the television crew and Ma’s finger, leg and head were injured.

6) Journalist investigating exploitation of works roughed up by security guards

On 19 August 19, Li Runwen, a reporter with China Youth Daily, went with an intern to investigate alleged extortion of student wages at a factory belonging to the Hangzhou Wahaha Group Co, Ltd (also known as Wahaha) in Jiangsu Province. A company security guard demanded to take a picture of Li’s press card. When Li refused, the guard suddenly yelled at him and splashed tea over the two journalists. An unknown person cried out “fake reporter” and several workers surrounded Li and pushed him onto the ground. Li’s head was injured by several kicks and punches. China Youth Daily issued a statement the next day condemning the guard’s brutality. The secretary of Wahaha’s publicity department visited Li and police launched an investigation into the attack. Wahaha claims it is the largest beverage enterprise in China. In 2013, Wahaha said it ranked No. 179 among China top 500 enterprises and no. 83 among China top 500 manufacturers.

7) Chinese journalist with Germany’s Deutsche Welle terminated

Su Yutong, a Chinese journalist who had been working for DW’s Chinese-language service since 2010, was suddenly sacked on August 19. Su told the IFJ that the Director of Programs, Gerda Meuer, said Su was not suitable for the new direction of the Chinese language service and accused her of violating DW’s rules two months previously. Su admitted that she had expressed her personal feelings about comments on DW by a pro-Beijing analyst about the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989. Su also said she forwarded an altered “tank man” image, which was posted by another blogger through her personal Twitter account. However, she said, management had not issued a warning or claimed that she had violated any internal rules. Su said: “Regarding the change in direction of the language service, I never received any official notice that there was any change. In September 2013, when the new DW Director General, Peter Limbourg, visited us, he did say he wanted us not to produce only negative reports about the Chinese Government but instead to give the Chinese Government some positive news coverage. He also said he had visited the Chinese Ambassador to Germany. However, since then, there has been no change of direction.” After the termination, several critical articles against Su were published in state-owned Chinese media. On August 28, DW’s Director General Peter Limbourg visited Wang Gengnian, Director of China Central Television International Channel. Limbourg said later that DW would carry more reports covering German-China trade, history and culture. He said that, “under the principle of respect for China”, DW would report China fairly. Some internal staff members disclosed that the original report was removed because Limbourg had initially used the word “follow”, not “respect”.

8) Cartoonist’s online accounts shut down for satirical cartoon

Wang Liming, a prominent online cartoonist, posted a cartoon satirising Hong Kong’s anti-Occupy Movement on his weibo microblog account on August 17. Wang was in Japan at the time. The next day, all Wang’s Mainland online microblog accounts, including weibo and WeChat, were shut down without explanation. According to Radio Free Asia, Wang’s online shopping account at Taobo, a prominent online shopping portal, was also shut down without explanation. On August 18, the Communist Party newspaper The People’s Daily and Global Times, a sister publication of The People’s Daily, as well as online portals and other media outlets, posted an article labelling Wang a “pro-Japanese traitor”. Wang denied the allegation and said he chose to stay in Japan because he was worried about his personal safety after his Mainland microblog accounts were shut down.

9) Family of Inner Mongolia political prisoner lose access to communication channels

The authorities in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China abruptly disconnected all communication channels to the family of a political prisoner named Hada, after his family spoke out on the internet about the fact that he has being illegally detained for almost four years. On August 15, Inner Mongolia police officers visited Hada’s wife, Xinna, and accused her of posting illegal content on overseas websites. According to the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, at least eight police officers, some of whom were uniformed policemen who identified themselves as “Chinese Internet Security Police”, warned Xinna and her son that they had posted “illegal content” on the internet, but gave no explanation of what they were referring to. Two days later, all communication cables, including the internet and telephone, were disconnected without notice. According to Radio Free Asia, Xinna received more than 400 death threats by text messages on her two cell phones from August 11 onward. She said she believed the harassment was due to her having posted several messages complaining that her husband, Hada, has been illegally detained since December 2010, after he had served 15 years in prison on accusations of being a separatist. Xinna had accepted several overseas media interviews and urged Xi Jinping, the President of China, and all international organizations, to be concerned about the violations of Hada’s human rights. No Mainland media has reported the case of Hada and his family, because Inner Mongolia is an autonomous region like Tibet and Hada is a political prisoner.

10) Three bloggers punished after posting on deadly Xinjang attack

Three bloggers were detained after they posted messages via social networking platforms about the deadly attack in Elishku Township, Yarkand County, Xinjiang Province on July 28. Luo Guangmin, a Xian activist, and Yang Sheungyu, a Hunan activist, were placed in administrative detention by police for five days on August 5 after they posted or forwarded a message on the WeChat and QQ spontaneous chat rooms. A Uyghur was under criminal investigation by police in Xinjiang on August 6. He allegedly fabricated and posted a message about the deadly attack on an overseas website on July 31. China’s official news agency Xinhua reported on July 30 that a number of assailants attacked government buildings and a police station where “dozens of Uyghur and Han civilians were killed and injured” early on the morning of July 28. The report said a number of assailants were shot dead by police. On August 11, Tianshen Online, which is controlled by the Xinjiang government, reported that 37 civilians were killed, 13 were injured, and 59 assailants were killed by police. After the incident, 215 people were arrested.

11) Writer detained in connection with detention of outspoken journalist Gao Yu

 

On August 26, writer Yao Jianfu, 82, disclosed that he had been detained by police in early May for a month without being given any reason. However it is widely believed Yao’s detention was related to the detention of Gao Yu, an outspoken independent journalist who is now being detained by the authorities on accusations of releasing state secrets. Yao, author of a biography of Chen Xitong, former Mayor of Beijing, was asked to halt publication of his new book in Hong Kong, and warned not to give any interviews to media after he was released. Gao Yu, 70, was detained by Beijing police on the accusation that she released a state secret to a non-Mainland media outlet in August 2013. It is widely believed that the information was “Document Number 9”, which disclosed the seven topics that the Central Government has forbidden officials to discuss, under threat of being removed from their positions. The topics include the Western Democratic System, Universal Values, Western Press Freedom and Civil Society. Gao has only recently been allowed to meet her defense lawyer.

 

12) Independent film festival in Beijing shut down

 

An independent film festival Beijing was shut down on August 23. According to overseas media reports, several local village leaders and police separately visited the executive administrators of the Li Xianting Film Fund, the organizer of the film festival, and Li Xianting, the founder of the fund. They all demanded that the organizer to give up plans to hold the festival at Songzhuang, an arts village in Beijing. When they agreed to stop the screenings in Beijing and change the venue to a hotel in Hebei, local police in Hebei also banned the film festival. Li disclosed he was under surveillance by police for some time. A film, The Road to Fame, was barred from being screened even though it had received good comments from critics at the Europe Film Festival. According to reports, the film touches on the Cultural Revolution.

 

13) China Central Television staff resign after station changes salary system

A number of staff members at China Central Television (CCTV) after the state-owned television station suddenly changed its salary system, Mainland media reported. Before the changes, staff received a basic monthly salary with some benefits, including a bonus. However, CCTV management reduced the amount of benefits, indirectly cutting salaries. It was reported that the basic salary for a staff under the new system is about 8000 yuan (about US$1300).

14) China speeds up media integration to disseminate Communist Party ideology

On August 19, President Xi Jinping claimed during the fourth meeting of the Leading Group for Overall Reform that China will build several new-type media groups that are strong, influential and credible. President Xi called on all traditional media to integrate with new media. In fact, demands for media integration were made during the Third Plenum of the 18th China Communist Party Central Committee in November 2013. According to the Communist Party’s People’s Daily, Liu Qibao, Head of the Central Propaganda Department, said in a speech on 23 April that there was an urgent need to speed up the integration of media because the new media had become the major channel to impart and receive information. However, Liu admitted that the need for change was related to state security and ensuring that the Communist Party of China could disseminate its message.

If you have information on a press freedom violation or matters relating to media freedom and journalists’ rights in China, contact staff at IFJ Asia-Pacific so that action can be taken. To contribute to this bulletin, email ifjchina@ifj-asia.org.

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