Press Freedom in China Bulletin: MAY

On April 25, 2017, people gather outside the Intermediate People's Court in Changsha. The trial of a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, Li Heping, began without prior public notice, following delayed proceedings in the case which sparked international concern after allegations he was tortured.

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on June8, 2017.

To contribute news or information, email [email protected]. To visit the IFJ’s China Campaign page, go to

View the IFJ media violations in China map here.

Follow the IFJ on Facebook here.

Follow the IFJ on Twitter here.

For the simplified Chinese version click here

For the traditional Chinese version click here


In this bulletin:

1) VOA is under fire

2) Jiujiang TV journalist attacked

3) Veteran Communist Party member disappears after demanding political reform

4) Cyberspace Administration Bureau in Heilongjiang abuse of power 

5) The Ministry of National Defence admitted to posting an edited image

6) Media silence in sensitive stories

7) Series of arbitrary laws, regulations and plans to further tighten media

8) Hong Kong Police Department deliberately delays releasing information

9) Apple cooperates with China to block apps in Chinese community 


1)      VOA is under fire

On 19 April 2017, Voice of America, a US government funded independent media outlet, livestreamed an interview with a very controversial Chinese billionaire, Guo Wengui. The interview was set to run for three hours, but was abruptly cut short, citing issues of ‘miscommunication’.  This event immediately sparked criticism and allegations that VOA was censoring due to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, who told VOA the interview “interfered with Chinese internal affairs” and “interfered the 19th National People’s Congress” on 17 April when the Ministry talked to the Bureau Chief of VOA in Beijing. According to several overseas media reports, the Chinese official demanded VOA to stop the interview; otherwise their working visas in China might have trouble. Although VOA repeatedly denied exercising any self-censorship and promised to investigate the case led by the VOA executive, Amanda Bennett, the five involved in the interview, Sasha Gong Xiaoxia, Dong Fang, Bao Shen, Li Su and Yang Chen were demanded to take administrative leave until further notice. On 30 April, Sasha Gong and Dong Fang posted an article in the VOA platform that said, “the VOA senior seriously demanded us to stop the livestream interview” and “under different kind of pressure, the original livestreamed interview was abruptly ended which becomes our regret in our career.”

China took series of actions to stop Guo Wengui’s interview from ever taking place. On 19 April, Interpol issued a warrant for Wengui, attacking his integrity. On the following day, many Mainland media outlets and a number of Hong Kong media outlets began to report so-called negative stories about Wengui but did not disclose the source of the information. According to the New York Times report, Facebook and Twitter temporarily suspended Wengui’s account without knowing the exact reason.

In VOA’s interview, Wengui offered negative information about Wang Qishan, the current member of the Politburo Standing Committee, under instruction by a middleman who claimed the authority was given by Chinese President Xi Jinping. After the interview, Wengui said a number of Mainland secret security agents have already developed some “sites” in Hong Kong which Hong Kong Security Bureau knew but did not stop. The Hong Kong Government did not reply and pro-government lawmakers also deterred pro-democracy camp lawmakers to raise the questions in the meeting.

2)      Jiujiang TV journalist attacked

On 25 April, Xie Wanru, a journalist with Jiujiang TV was physically attacked as she was trying to report on a dispute between an owner and a developer in Jiujiang city, Jiangxi. Wanru had received a complaint from the owner of Cheng Sheng Residential Building regarding delays from Jiangxi Cheng Sheng Development Ltd in providing the deed of the apartment. When Wanru was recording the argument between the two parties, two unidentified persons used force to take away Wanru’s camera and hit her. Wanru then tried to follow the two parties into a meeting room, where she was blocked entry and pushed to the floor. The IFJ Asia Pacific office said: “Using violence to suppress media from exercising their duties is not a new thing in Mainland, China. It is really a sad and unacceptable phenomenon, despite Chinese authority’s claims that media have legal rights to exercise their duties enshrined in Chinese Constitution. We believe lip service is not enough to demonstrate the degree of respect and honour the Constitution promises.”3) Veteran Communist Party member “disappeared” after demanding for political reform On 28 April 2017, Zi Su, a veteran Communist Party member posted an open letter urging the Communist Party to implement a direct democratic election internally in the coming 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. In the open letter, Zi said Xi Jinping did a great job in fighting against corruption compared with his predecessor Hu Jintao. However Zi also mentioned Xi had done a number of wrongdoings including following Mao Zedong‘s route of upholding personal worship, centralizing all powers, combating constitutional and democratic reform, suppressing human rights lawyers and dissidents, and further tightening freedom of speech in the internet. In the letter, Zi also said based on public comments, he suggests Xi Jinping should not re-run as the General Secretary of Communist Party in the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Instead, Zi recommended Hu Deping, son of former General Secretary of Communist Party Hu Yaobang, to become the successor of Xi due to Hu is inclined to implement a democratic reform in the country.On 30 April, a Mainland website, Literature Network, reported that Zi was taken away by security agents after the letter was disseminated in the internet.4) Cyberspace Administration Bureau in Heilongjiang abuse of power  On 29 April 2017, the Cyberspace Administration Bureau in Heilongjiang issued a notice accusing four media outlets’ WeChat accounts of publishing articles which violate the Communist Party Propaganda Department seven clauses’ Direction. The Bureau did not write down the content of the Direction and did not specifically pin point which particular clause the media outlets had violated, but threatened their accounts might shut down if they continuously violate the Directions. In the notice, the bureau wrote down three ‘questionable’ articles with the titles “a 16-year-old daughter killed her mother and tied her up in a chair for seven days,” “A highway accident happened people should aware of safety on 1 May” and “United Airlines compensated 140 million to the injured passenger”. Three articles have already been published on websites in other provinces without facing any trouble.5) The Ministry of National Defence admitted to posting an edited imageOn 23 April, the People’s Liberation Army Navy posted a photo of US and Russia aircraft carriers next to Chinese aircraft carries in order to celebrate the Chinese Navy’s 68th anniversary. Quite a number of citizens soon discovered the image was an edited version. On 27 April, the spokesperson of the Army offered an apology and admitted the image was an edited one. He claimed the editor had inserted US and Russia aircraft carries in the photo. This is the first time that the Ministry of National Defence admitted of wrongdoing.  6) Media silence in sensitive storiesA) On 28 April, Chinese human rights lawyer Li Heping was given a three-year suspended jail sentence for subversion of state power by the Tianjin court. After the closed door hearing, the judge adopted the allegation of the prosecution side that Heping smeared and attacked the state’s political institutions and legal system through the internet and foreign media and “used overseas funds to interfere in and sensationalize ‘hot’ cases, in order to provoke dissatisfaction among people who do not understand our country’s social system.” Majority of Mainland media did not report the case and were unable to access the limited reports on the internet. Other than Heping, no media reports included other Chinese human rights lawyers, such as Xie Yang and Jiang Tianyong, who were both detained for months. Jiang’s parents in particular were repeatedly warned by the security agents not to speak to foreigners and overseas media. At the same time, another Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Jiangang, his wife and two young children, friend Zhang Baocheng and his wife, were suddenly detained and put into custody by Tunnan police when they were on vacation in Jinghong, Yunnan Province.    B) According to Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center ( SMHRIC) reports, several herders protested in Inner Mongolia from 19 to 25 April 2017 however not a single word was reported by Mainland media. SMHRIC said nearly 200 Mongolian herders protested across Inner Mongolia for several of reasons, including: local authority illegally grazing land without addressing the herder’s demands, local police brutally attacking and detaining protestors, and pollution due to illegal land grabbing in the local Mongolian pastoralist communities.7) Series of arbitrary laws, regulations and plans to further tighten mediaA) On April 10, the Beijing-based National Security Bureau announced the anti-espionage scheme, ‘Report on Espionage’. The scheme aims to use citizens as the eyes and ears of the government, asking them to report any suspicious activity to the Bureau. By participating in the program, citizens would be eligible for monetary rewards, with a successful ‘tip offs’ able to receive between 10,000 and 500,000 yuan (USD 1,500 – 73,000).

According to Mainland reports, the National Security Bureau alleges that some of the espionage activities are taking place within foreign non-government organisations. The Bureau believes that members of these organisations are attempting to obtain state secrets and influence Chinese officials. According to Beijing Daily, the Bureau said: “several espionage activities are taking place, illegal mapping, taking photos and so on.”

B) On April 27, Chinese lawmakers considered revisions to the surveying and mapping law to protect geographic information and raise public awareness of national territory.The revisions include using safe, reliable technology and equipment, managing navigation and positioning reference stations and supervising internet mapping services. The revision states that internet map providers should use maps that are authorized in accordance with the law and protect the integrity of mapping data. It also suggests governments at all levels and media outlets should increase awareness of national territory, including in the curricula of middle and primary schools.Lawmakers said that raising public awareness of national territory is an important part of patriotism education. Violators could face fines up to 1 million yuan (over 145,000 U.S. dollars) or have their business licenses revoked, and could face criminal charges.  Foreign offenders could be deported.C) April 27, the General Office of the Communist Party Central Committee has asked for a more Marxist view of journalism education for Chinese reporters and journalism majors at universities. All- China Journalists’ Association (ACJA), a government funded non-independent association, already planned a long-term training mechanism for education on the Marxist view of journalism in order to "lead Chinese journalists to be loyal to the Party's news cause." According to Xinhua, the ACJA is going to broaden its representation of front-line journalists and new media and to step up review of fake news and other prominent problems haunting internet-based news reporting.D) On May 2, the Cyberspace Administration Bureau of China issued a new set of regulations to restrain all mode of online communication. Online channels are not allowed to report, publish or disseminate any kind of news unless they apply for a license from the Bureau. The licensor also needs to establish a news management mechanism in order to take up all responsibilities if there is anything wrong. In the regulation, it demanded no foreign investment should be involved in the industry unless they apply for an approval from the authority after a ‘security assessment.’ In addition, all internet service providers should ‘insist to serve people, serve socialism, and insist to provide positive public guidance” and “safeguard national interest.”8) Hong Kong Police Department deliberately delays releasing informationOn April 26 and 27, the Hong Kong Police Department arrested eleven pro-democracy/pro-independent activists in an early hour. Police, however, did not inform the media until at least three hours later, and very little information was released through the Hong Kong Government Information Service. In fact, police deliberately delayed releasing information so that media could not exercise their reporting work. The Hong Kong Information Service has been criticized by Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), our affiliate for years; however there has been no improvement at all. In the past, Hong Kong Police Department offer a performance pledge to the media that they will inform media as soon as possible after an action is taken. However such pledge has not been realized in the past few years.  9) Apple cooperates with China to block apps in Chinese community

According to Globe Voices, China Uncensored, a satirical news show was censored by Apple TV through the app store if users trying to access the show were based in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The curator, Chris Chappell, issued a statement noting that content regarding the two-party system in Hong Kong and Taiwan was censored. Chappell also wrote a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook urging Apple to remove the block on China Uncensored to Hong Kong and Taiwan-based users, threatening to take legal and political action.It has been reported that Apple has been tightly following the Provisions on the Administration of Mobile Internet Application Information Service issued by the Chinese government. The regulations allow the service provider to remove so-called rumours and information deemed to be harmful to national security.In January 2017, The New York Times app was removed from the Apple iTunes Store so no Mainland mobile users are able to download this app, yet it is still available in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

IFJ Asia-Pacific  

[email protected]