Press Freedom in China Bulletin: JUNE

Activists hold a protest outside the Chinese Liaison office after a vigil in Hong Kong on June 4, 2017, to mark the 28th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing in 1989. Thousands gathered at a candlelit vigil in Hong Kong on the night of June 4 to mark 28 years since China's bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown but the annual event is struggling for support among younger generations. Credit: Isaac Lawrence/AFP

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on July8, 2017.To contribute news or information, email [email protected]. To visit the IFJ’s China Campaign page, go to the IFJ media violations in China map here. Follow the IFJ on Facebook here. Follow the IFJ on Twitter here.Please distribute this bulletin widely among colleagues in the media.Download the simplified Chinese version here. Download the traditional Chinese version here

1)    Reporting restricted at One Belt One Road Forum

2)    Two detained media workers deprived of legal rights

3)    Mainland media fails to report sensitive matters

4)    Tiananmen Square anniversary treated as taboo subject

5)    Free speech advocates subjected to online bullying

6)    Authorities slow to release sensitive information

7)    Mainland media shows power to rally opinion, influence outcomes

8)    Hong Kong’s largest TV station suspected of providing false information to regulator

9)    Taiwan media outlet involved in editorial compromises

10)  China’s laws on intelligence and cyber security seen as problematic

11)   Citizens accused of “subversion”, and their families, are deprived of legal rights 

1)Reporting restricted at One Belt One Road Forum

On May 14, the One Belt One Road Forum was held in Beijing to promote China’s plan for massive investment in international transport infrastructure. Hundreds of journalists flooded into Beijing to report on the forum, hoping to ask President Xi Jinping questions at the press conference on May 15. However, there was no Q & A session for media. Moreover, most journalists were required to stay at a press centre located far away from the forum. They were told they did not have press accreditation for the venue. The organisers were not transparent about how they decided which journalists would be accredited and which would not. Many journalists complained that the arrangements were well below international standards.Before the forum, some overseas journalists tried to report on protests planned to coincide with the event. Protesters from across China gathered to complain about local government officials. However, the protesters were intercepted either by local authorities in their hometowns or by security agents of the central government before they reached the capital. Radio Free Asia, citing microblog messages and overseas Chinese media, reported that many protesters were detained.The Mainland media carried extensive coverage of the forum, but the articles were almost indistinguishable from each other. There was no independent reporting. The Mainland media did not report a major incident in which several European countries refused to sign the trade agreement. Only a very few overseas media outlets revealed the development.

2)Two detained media workers deprived of legal rights

Liu Feiyue, founder of Chinese Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch, and Huang Qi, founder of 64 Tianwang Human Rights Center, have been prevented from enjoying their legal right to be visited by defence lawyers since November 2016. Liu and Huang have been detained for months in their home towns. According to Radio Free Asia, Liu was accused by police in Suizhou, Hubei Province, of “inciting subversion of state power” on the ground that he published articles opposing the socialist system. After months of requests, Liu’s defence lawyer was finally allowed to visit his client on May 25, 2017.

Huang Qi was detained by police of Mianyang, Sichuan police in November 2016. According to his defence lawyer, Huang was arrested because he posted a document on the 64 Tianwang website. The document was allegedly a “state secret” because it revealed Huang was being targeted by the authorities. On May 24, Huang’s mother, aged 84, asked the Sichuan police to release all information about his son while he is in detention.

3) Mainland media fails to report sensitive incidents

A)Five petitioners reportedly swallowed pesticide in front of Chinese Communist Party official newspaper The People’s Daily. According to several microblog messages, hundreds of petitioners from Shenyang, Liaoning province, went to Beijing to complain that the Shenyang local government had illegally occupied their land and illegally detained people. Many of the protesters were blocked by the Beijing police when they arrived. However dozens were able to go to the headquarters of The People’s Daily on 25 and 26 May 2017. Five protesters swallowed the poison in the hope that their actions would be reported by the media. However, no media outlet, including The People’s Daily, reported the incident.B) Taiwan’s constitutional court, the Council of Grand Justices, ruled on May 24 that Taiwan’s legal definition of marriage as being “between a man and a woman” violated the Constitution. The decision opened the way for Taiwan to become the firstplace in the Chinese-speaking world to legalise gay marriage. The development was treated as taboo by the Mainland Chinese authorities. The Mainland media did not report on the court’s ruling on the day it was handed down, except for a report consisting of just 66 words that appeared in an entertainment column on Sohu, a popular online outlet. According to China Digital Times, a restrictive order was issued by the Chinese authorities, which said information about the Taiwan decision fell into the category of sensitive news, so the media should not “make a fuss”.4) Tiananmen Square anniversary treated as taboo subjectA) The June 4 anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre was again treated as a taboo subject. As in previous years, all articles and pictures related to the massacre were totally forbidden to be published, posted or broadcast in Mainland China. According to Radio Free Asia, some bloggers said that in the days before June 4 the authorities tightened restrictions on people using VPNs. On June 4, many microblog users, including artists, complained that they could not post articles or images on their WeChat accounts. If anyone succeeded in posting an article or image related to June 4, it was immediately deleted on the grounds that it “violated relevant laws”. The authorities did not specify the “relevant” laws or regulations.B) Facebook’s monitoring system came under fire again. On May 28, just a week before the June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Fung Ka-Keung, the chief executive of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, revealed Facebook had refused to allow him to post a message on the basis that it constituted a “derogation, threat or attack on an individual, race or association”. Fung wished to post a tailor-made photo-frame to symbolise his mourning over June 4 and to encourage people to re-use the photo-frame to express their feelings. When Hong Kong media reported the incident, Facebook offered an apology and allowed Fung to post the photo-frame the following day. Fung said he suspected Facebook had bowed to the Chinese Communist Party.

5) Free speech advocates subjected to online bullying

A) On May 21, Yang Shuping, a Chinese student graduating at the University of Maryland, praised her experience of free speech in the US in a speech she made during her graduation ceremony. Yang immediately drew condemnation after a video of her speech was disseminated on the internet. On May 22, Yang published an apology and requested netizens to stop making personal attacks. In a statement, the University of Maryland supported Yang’s decision to exercise her right to free speech.B) Prominent legal scholar He Weifang announced he would shut down all his microblog accounts after continuously having his accounts shut down for unknown reasons. In an interview with Associated Press, He said he had been targeted in relentless online attacks from agents of the Communist Party and even more extreme Maoists in the past five years. He told AP: “In the last 40 years, freedom of speech for intellectuals has never been constricted as severely as it is now.” He said it made him feel “outraged”. He is a liberal law professor at Beijing University and was the defence lawyer of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo,

6) Authorities slow to release sensitive information

A) According to Japanese media, six Japanese men have been detained in Shandong province and Hainan Province since March 2017. However, neither the Mainland nor the Japanese Government released any information about the detentions until May 21, when Japanese media outlet Kyodo reported that six Japanese men were suspected of being involved in espionage. The following day, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of China admitted during a routine press conference that six Japanese men had been detained due to their alleged involvement in “illegal activities”. China enacted its first espionage law in 2014.B) A Taiwanese non-government worker, Lee Ming-cheh, “disappeared” in Guangdong Province in March, but Taiwan and the Chinese authorities did not confirm the detention until more than two months later. On May 26, China’s official news agency Xinhua reported that the Mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office admitted that Lee was suspected of being involved in “inciting subversion of state power” and was detained in China. Xinhua did not mention where Lee was detained, nor did it give any information about his health. The Straits Exchange Foundation called on the Chinese authorities to release evidence related to the case.C) On May 27, the US Navy claimed two Chinese jets behaved in a manner that was “unprofessional and unsafe” while a US surveillance aircraft was operating in international airspace near the South China Sea on May 25. According to CNN, the US official said one Chinese fighter flew about 200 yards in front of a US P-3 spy plane and conducted multiple turns. The following day, the Army Ministry of China rebutted the accusation in a routine press conference. The spokesperson said a US aircraft intruded into China’s airspace so the Chinese air force operated according to law and carried out its mission safely and professionally.7)Mainland media shows power to rally opinion, influence outcomesOn May 27, an appeal in a murder case was heard in Shangdong Supreme People’s Court after a public outcry regarding the sentence handed down by Shangdong Intermediate People’s Court in February 2017. Yu Huan, the son of Su Yinxia, was found guilty of killing a debt collector who had sexually harassed Su in front of Yu in April 2016. During the trial, the judge did not take into consideration Yu’s argument of self-defence and evidence that Liaocheng police did not investigate the case after they received complaints. Many Mainland media outlets reported the life sentence and a public outcry followed. The Shangdong Supreme People’s Court allowed the appeal, which was heard on May 27. The verdict is pending.8) Hong Kong’s largest TV station suspected of providing false information to regulatorThe company holding the dominant stake in Television Broadcasts Ltd (TVB), the largest free-to-air domestic television station in Hong Kong, was suspected of providing inaccurate information to the local regulator so that a non-resident, Li Ruigang, could gain control of the broadcaster. Li, a former deputy secretary general of Shanghai’s Communist Party, and an international media investor through his empire China Media Capital, gained about 20 per cent of TVB when his company bought a large stake in TVB’s largest shareholder Young Lion Holdings. On May 11, Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission revealed the ownership structure after TVB applied for a ruling in relation to a takeover. However, that piece of information has been hidden since 2011, when Li bought up shares from the original largest shareholders of TVB. The Communication Authority failed to answer the question of how and why Li, who is not a resident of Hong Kong, can fulfil legal requirements.9) Taiwan media outlet involved in editorial compromisesOn May 18, a journalist at the Taiwan-based China Times, which is friendly to Mainland China, revealed in his blog that China Times had been involved in editorial compromises. The journalist, surnamed Chan, said the editorial compromises occurred in travel and food and beverage page for at least a year. Chan said senior editors were well aware of this unacceptable behaviour but nobody stopped it. After the revelation, Chan was asked by management to take a vacation.10) China’s laws on intelligence and cyber security seen as problematicA) On May 16, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s highest government body, presented a new draft law, the National Intelligence Law of China, and invited public consultation until June 4. However, this important piece of news was scarcely reported by Mainland media. According to the draft law, the intelligence powers may be exercised “inside and outside of the borders”. Article 9 empowers the intelligence agencies to “use necessary methods, means and channels” to launch intelligence activities. Article 10 also allows the intelligence agencies to “collect and process information” on foreign bodies, organizations and individuals engaged in, or inciting or assisting others to engage in, harm to the national security and interest of China. The article also covers domestic bodies, organizations and individuals who allegedly collude with foreign bodies, organs or individuals. Article 16 says that intelligence agents are allowed to enter into different premises and enjoy the privilege of passage in order to carry out their duties. Anyone who breaches the law will be subject to the maximum of 15 days of administrative detention, or to criminal charges.China already has several laws to protect national security and interests, including the National Security Law, the Espionage Law and the Anti-terrorism Law.B) On June 1, China’s new Cyber Security Law came into effect, but business groups continued to complain that the law is “confused”. On May 15, a coalition of 54 global business groups appealed to Beijingto postpone enforcing the law, which they said violated Beijing’s free-trade pledges and might harm information security. The Cyberspace Administration of China did not fully respond to their demands, except to promise to postpone the implementation of the regulations governing cross-border data flow until the end of 2018, according to The New York Times. The new law limits the use of foreign security technology, requiresall data about Chinese citizens to be stored in China, and asserts that the Chinese authorities have the right to impose security checks on companies’ financial and communications systems.11) Citizens accused of “subversion”, and their families, are deprived of legal rightsA) Local police have reportedly deprived the sons of two human rights lawyers, Chen Jiangang and Wang Quangzhang, of their right to education. According to Radio Free Asia, Chen’s wife said a teacher at a pre-primary school had told her the school could not enrol her son in September because a government officer told the school not to accept him. Wang’s son was not allowed to enrol in kindergarten. Wang was a lawyer with the Fengrui Law Firm. The authorities allege Fengrui Law Firm was involved in a “criminal syndicate” in 2015. After being detained for nearly two years, Wang was accused of “subversion of state power”. On June 1, 2017, Chengsha police verbally confirmed that Wang was actually charged with “subversion of state power” only six months after he was detained.B) Dong Guangping, a Chinese citizen who had been living in exile in Thailand, has been deprived of his right to meet his defence lawyer since he was repatriated to China in November 2015. According to Radio Free Asia, Chongqing police department accused Dong of “inciting subversion of state power”. A friend of Dong, Xie Dan, said he had tried to send money to Dong so that he could buy food inside the detention centre. Police refused to accept the money on Dong’s behalf, saying Xie was not a family member. Xie has already applied to the police through legal channels for an explanation of why Dong is being detained. Dong’s wife and daughter were asylum seekers.IFJ Asia-Pacific[email protected]