China intensifies its clamp down on journalists

September 27, 2005

China intensifies its clamp down on journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing more than 500,000 journalists over 110 countries, is deeply concerned that press freedom abuses in China have gone from bad to worse in recent times.

The Chinese government has intensified it systematic attack on press freedom and journalists’ safety, jailing several Chinese journalists without regard for legal justice or the right of appeal.

The IFJ calls on all governments to link their trade with China to human and press rights to make it clear that abuses cannot continue if China wants to strengthen its links to the global economy.

“The path of the Chinese government, in its recent pursuit of journalists with legal cases, is littered with abuses and unashamed abandonment of its own legal procedures,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren.

“It is clear that the Chinese government has embarked on a disturbing mission to suffocate any form of government criticism,” said the IFJ President.

“China’s record of violating journalists’ rights is well known to the international community, and as the world opens up to trade with China, its use of the law to intimidate, harass and imprison journalists is becoming more frequent and more damaging,” he said.

“The international community cannot be complacent in allowing human and press rights abuses to worsen in China while opening its doors to lucrative trade with the world’s most populated country,” said Warren.

In a string of criminal and civil law abuses that fly in the face of international human rights standards, the Chinese government’s legal abuses represent a direct, unashamed attempt to suppress news reports and dissemination of information contrary to the government’s agenda.

Yahoo! and the imprisonment of Chinese journalists Shi Tao
One of the most concerning cases in China is the imprisonment of Shi Tao, a 37-year-old journalist and foreign correspondent for Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News).

On April 30, Shi Tao was sentence to 10 years imprisonment by the Changsha Intermediate People's Court after it convicted him for allegedly ‘leaking state secrets abroad’.

The alleged ‘state secrets’ were Shi’s notes about instructions from the government imposing restrictions on coverage of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 3, 1989. Shi emailed his notes to the editor of a New York-based website.

At the request of Chinese authorities Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. provided detailed information that was used to link Shi’s personal email account and IP address with the message.

Shi Tao did not deny sending the email but disputed the ‘secret’ nature of the information he sent.

“Yahoo!’s complicity in helping the Chinese government jail a journalist is quite frightening for the future of human and press rights in China,” said the IFJ President Christopher Warren.

“It is appalling to think that multi-national companies are happy to close their eyes or even contribute to press freedom abuses in China in order to secure a large, profitable market,” said the IFJ President.

“Governments and corporate companies trading with China have to take a strong ethical stance and make sure their business with China does not result in the violation of internationally agreed human rights or press freedom standards,” said Warren.

Yahoo! has responded criticism of its actions with a statement saying, “Just like any other global company, Yahoo! must ensure that its local country sites must operate within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based.

However, although Yahoo! has a contractual obligation to comply with the China’s laws, the company is not legally obliged to assist and co-operate with police investigations.

Operating under the law of Hong Kong, Yahoo! voluntarily signed the "Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the China Internet Industry" censorship agreement in 2002, agreeing to abide by Chinese censorship regulations. As a result, internet searches entered into the China search engine that are judged ‘sensitive’ by Chinese authorities only retrieve limited search results.

Yahoo! has been expanding its presence in China to attract business from the country’s increasing internet user population. Currently, over 100 million people in China are accessing the internet. In August this year, Yahoo! purchased a 40 per cent stake in the Chinese company for US$1 billion.

It is not only Yahoo! that has come under fire for censoring news sites and preventing access to ‘sensitive’ information. Google and MSN have both been criticised for censoring content the Chinese government disagrees with.

Worryingly, Microsoft has censored words such as ‘freedom’, ‘human rights’, ‘democracy’ and ‘dalai lama’ from its blogging service and MSN Spaces. Both Google and MSN have been increasing their corporate presence in China.

The IFJ is gravely concerned that the compliance of these companies may be part of a growing trend where regressive Chinese laws and human rights violations are quietly accepted in return for profitable market access.

Justice violations in the pursuit of Shi Tao’s conviction
When Shi was first detained in the north-eastern city of Taiyuan on November 24 last year, authorities confiscated his computer and other documents, and warned his family to remain silent about Shi’s arrest.

Shi was not officially charged with ‘leaking state secrets abroad’ until almost a month later on December 14.

During Shi’s trial, Chinese state security argued that the internal message was classified ‘Jue Mi’, or ‘top-secret’. Shi Tao concurred that he had passed the message on to some foreign-based websites, but contested the classification of the message as top-secret.

Constituting a violation of criminal procedure, Shi’s appeal hearing on June 2 was closed to the public and dismissed without a proper hearing.

In the latest attempt for justice, Shi Tao’s mother, Gao Qinsheng, filed a request for review with the Hunan Province People’s High Court. Shi’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, also filed a brief in support of the request.

The IFJ has condemned the Chinese government’s abuse and manipulation of the legal system by assigning precedence to vague government regulations to unjustly imprison journalists.

Former US President Bill Clinton fails to support Shi Tao
Shi Tao’s case has garnered global concern and heightened condemnation of internet provider Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. since it was linked to the arrest and detention of the journalist.

On September 9, 2005, the day before the start of the China Internet Summit in Hangzhou, Human Rights in China (HRIC) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) wrote to former US President Bill Clinton, as keynote speaker of the summit, urging him to raise Shi’s case and encourage internet giants to implement their human rights obligations.

Sponsored by Yahoo!’s new Chinese partner, the summit was an opportunity for Clinton to raise the spectre of China’s ‘censorship and silence’ regime to a delegation of CEOs from the world’s leading internet companies. However, Clinton sidestepped discussion of the jailed journalists and opted to comment on the impact of active censorship policies on commercial prospects in China.

Foreign correspondent Ching Cheong charged with spying
On April 22, 2005 Ching Cheong, chief China correspondent for Singapore’s The Straits Times newspaper, was taken into custody by security agents and later charged with spying.

On August 5, the Beijing National Security Bureau formally accursed Ching of spying, alleging he established channels between mainland China and Hong Kong, systematically gathered economic and military intelligence and sold it to the Taiwan.

Foreign Ministry officials claim Ching has confessed to intelligence-gathering activities for the Taiwan National Security Bureau in return for a substantial fee.

Like the family harassment employed by the government in case of Shi Tao, Ching Cheong’s wife, Mary Lau, kept her husband’s detention a secret after being threatened by Chinese authorities not to go public about Ching’s arrest. Lau finally decided to go public when mainland officials told her that the Chinese government intended to charge him with ‘stealing core state secrets.’

Ching is a Hong Kong citizen, a legal resident of Singapore, and is a well-respected and experienced journalist.

Upon arrest, Ching was placed under a form of detention called ‘residence under surveillance’ in Beijing without any evidence supporting the charges against him. Ching has been kept in isolation, denied all legal recourse and refused access to family members and Strait Times colleagues.

The IFJ and its affiliates will continue to demand the dropping of all charges and the speedy release of Ching.

No trial in sight, New York Times researcher Zhao Yan marks one year in detention
Journalist Zhao Yan has also fallen victim to China’s loosely defined state secrets law.

Chinese researcher for the New York Times, Zhao was arrested and detained on September 17, 2004 for ‘divulging state secrets’, a crime punishable by death.

In October 2004, authorities formally charged Zhao, alleging he informed the New York Times of the President’s resignation before it was officially announced. The New York Times has repeatedly denied Zhao’s involvement with the story.

Zhao continues to remain incarcerated at a Ministry of Public Security detention centre in Southern Beijing and has been held in isolation and subjected to constant interrogations.

According to one source, Zhao has lost 10 kilograms and his repeatedly requested for a biopsy for a skin condition have been refused.

Despite this pressure, Zhao has not confessed to any crime.

“This unlawful imprisonment is a chilling example of China’s persistently aggressive oppression of journalists’ rights and press freedom,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren.

“Zhao has been detained without trail for more than a year,” said the IFJ President.

“This case is evidence of the extent of China’s disdain for human rights and press freedom. It sends a message to the international community that the Chinese authorities are free to use any means, legal or otherwise to silence journalists,” said Warren.

Imprisoned journalist Zhang Lin resorts to hunger strike
On January 29, 2005 Zhang Yin, a freelance journalist and foreign correspondent, was detained in Anhui for allegedly ‘inciting subversion’ through a radio interview and six press articles that were posted on overseas dissident news websites.

Zhang was arrested while travelling home from Beijing where he went to mourn the death of communist party leader Zhao Ziyang. Party leader Zhao was ousted from the Chinese government after opposing the use of force against protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

On July 28, the Anhui Intermediate People’s Court convicted Zhang of inciting subversion and sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Since his arrest, Zhang’s health has dramatically deteriorated. Zhang was hospitalised in early September after going on a hunger strike from September 4 to protest his imprisonment.

Zhang’s wife believes her husband is also being punished for a series of essays he wrote concerning protests by unemployed workers and recent cases of jailed officials.

Zhang will appeal the verdict against him. The IFJ supports Zhang’s appeal, and urges the Chinese government to follow the rule of law in accordance with the constitution, allow Zhang a fair and free trial and afford due process.

“The IFJ and its affiliates demand that all journalists currently behind bars are released, and that press freedom is respected in China”, said IFJ President Christopher Warren.

“Journalists currently imprisoned have become the victims of a vague and outdated set of national security regulations which provide the Chinese government with an open field to perpetuate legal abuse in the name of national security,” said the IFJ President.

For further information, please contact Christopher Warren on +61 411 757 668.

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries