IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin: August 2014

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent in mid-September 2014, and contributions are most welcome.

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1)      New rules jeopardise journalists’ right to work

2)      Xinjiang Province authorities hold back news of deadly riot for three days

3)      IIham Tohti’s defence lawyer subjected to intense political pressure

4)      Xinhua uses only 54 words to report investigation of top official

5)      39 netizens in Beijing either detained or punished

6)      Quality of RTHK English television programmes put at risk

7)      Facebook suddenly suspends democracy advocates’ accounts

8)      Hong Kong-based pro-democracy news website suddenly closed

9)      Media mogul Jimmy Lai admits donating several million to democrats

10)   HKJA sets up committee to monitor media self-censorship

11)   Former editor-in-chief returns to work after brutal attack

1)      New rules jeopardise journalists’ right to work

On July 18, Song Zhibiao, a journalist with China Fortune Weekly Magazine, a publication of the Nan Fang Media Group, was forced to sign an agreement terminating his contract after he wrote an article for a Hong Kong-based online platform, Oriental Daily. In his comment piece, posted on July 16, Song analysed the differences in social reactions between two attempts by the Guangdong Province to force the Guangdong television stations to broadcast news bulletins in Mandarin instead of the regional language. The Government tried to implement the policy four years ago, but withdrew the plan after an outcry from local people. Several journalists said the Guangdong Propaganda Department pressed Song’s supervisor to dismiss him on the grounds that Song violated the latest rules governing journalists. These rules were announced by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) on June 30. The rules ban all local media workers from reporting “state secrets, commercial secrets, unpublished information, and so on”. The definition of “local media workers” includes anchormen, editors and “others who aid media personnel” or work as a “correspondent, writer or columnist” for a local or non-local media outlet or online media outlet. The rules further restrain journalists’ activities in their private lives. Journalists cannot “reproduce, copy or store” the above information or “disseminate state secrets via any means to others” or “talk or write to others in private”. The SAPPRFT said all media outlets should sign confidentiality agreements with their personnel to ensure journalists do not disclose the above information to others via any means, including microblogs or online forums. However, the announcement did not give the legal basis of the rules. If anyone breaches the rules, they will be prosecuted under China’s laws covering state secrets or sued for civil liability for breach of agreement, and have their press accreditation cancelled.

2)      Xinjiang Province authorities hold back news of deadly riot for three days

Official news agency Xinhua reported on July 30 that “dozens of Uyghur and Han civilians were killed and injured” early on the morning of July 28. The report said a number of assailants attacked government buildings and police station in Elishku Township, Yarkand County, Xinjiang Province. During the riot, 31 cars were smashed, with six of them being set on fire. On August 4, the Xinjiang government announced that 96 people were killed and 215 people were arrested. The Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang, Zhang Chunxian, claimed the riot resulted from cooperation between terrorist groups inside and outside the territory. He based the claim on the discovery of some “holy flags” and axes. However a Uyghur living in the UK told the IFJ that axes are a very common tool for Uyghur farmers in Xinjiang, so it was unreasonable to accuse Uyghurs of being involved in terrorist attacks on the basis of a common axe. The Uyghur also complained the internet was completely shut down after the riot and telephone communication also slowed down. He said he had tried numerous times to call his family members from Britain but found it very difficult.

3)      IIham Tohti’s defence lawyer subjected to intense political pressure

IIham Tohti, a prominent Uyghur scholar in Beijing, was officially charged with separatism on July 30 after six months in detention. He was accused of using his website, Uyghur Online, to disseminate separatist ideas, incite racial hatred and advocate for independence for Xinjiang Province. However, the authorities did not provide any evidence to support the accusation. Tohti was detained in Beijing and taken to Urumqi, Xinjiang, on January 15, 2014, but was not allowed to speak with his defence lawyer until June. According to Radio Free Asia, one of Ilham Tohti’s defence lawyers, Wang Yu, has been forced to stop representing him. The report said that after Wang and human rights lawyer Li Fangping met Tohti in June, Wang was called to a number of meetings at her law firm. She learned that the Justice Bureau, which has oversight of all legal practitioners and law firms, harassed her firm and started to investigate it. After being subjected to intense pressure, the chief of Wang’s firm decided to stop representing Tohti. Tohti established Uyghur Online in 2006, creating a platform for discussion in both Chinese and the Uyghur language to encourage understanding between the two groups, but the website was shut down in 2008.

4)      Xinhua uses only 54 words to report investigation of top official

Official news agency Xinhua used only 54 words in English to report on July 29 that Zhou Yongkang, 71, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, was under investigation for an alleged “serious disciplinary violation” of the Communist Party rules. The report did not give any details about how Zhou had allegedly violated the disciplinary regulations and how many people were involved. On the same day, a commentary published by People’s Daily Online was completely blocked on the internet. The commentary admitted some of party members had abused their powers but said the Communist Party would insist on fighting against corruption regardless of who these members were. All related weibo microblog posts were deleted.

5)      39 netizens in Beijing either detained or punished

Official news agency Xinhua reported that Beijing police had detained two people and punished 37 people for fabricating and spreading rumors online on July 20. It said people with the surnames Ma and Pei were detained because they had published false information on their weibo microblog accounts, in which they said “flight delays in Shanghai were due to an operation, disguised as a military drill, to hunt down an official who might be trying to flee the country or resist arrest”. Police said the rumour had drawn the attention of many online users, with adverse results.

6)      Quality of RTHK English television programmes put at risk

On July 30, RTHK’s English television service programme staff and the RTHK Programme Staff Union issued a rare joint statement expressing their concern over the decision by the Director of Broadcasting, Roy Tang Yun-Kwong, not to renew the contract of an executive producer, Gary Pollard, who will leave by the end of August. In June 2013, RTHK, Hong Kong’s public broadcaster, suddenly tightened up its employment rules so that contract staff who reach retirement age need approval from the Director of Broadcasting to continue their contracts. The move clearly deviated from the regulations issued by the Civil Service Bureau, under which there is no compulsory retirement age for non-civil service contract employees. RTHK posted a recruitment advertisement for Pollard’s position twice in April, but no suitable candidate was found. Even so, RTHK insisted that Pollard leave, provoking anger among staff. An RTHK staff member told the IFJ: “We have repeatedly voiced our concerns to management, saying we lack manpower and there is nobody internally who can perform multiple functions in the way that Pollard does. However, management simply ignored our views. The most enraging thing is that we demanded twice to speak with the Director of Broadcasting, Roy Tang, but he refused.” Tang, a career administrative officer, was appointed in 2011 as both Director of Broadcasting and Editor-in-Chief. Since then, several incidents have aroused public concern that freedom of expression is shrinking. Recently, many staff members have expressed concern that RTHK will let go all veteran and outspoken journalists under the new rules.

7)      Facebook suddenly suspends democracy advocates’ accounts

Dr Benny Tai Yiu-Ting, one of the organisers of the Occupy Movement in Hong Kong, said Facebook suspended his account without explanation. Dr Tai, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, has pushed for public nomination of candidates and universal suffrage for the 2017 elections of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and Legislative Council. He said Facebook notified him that, according to company policy, an account must list the account holder’s real full name. In addition, it was “a violation of our policies to use a personal profile to represent anything other than yourself”. Dr Tai set up his Facebook account in the name “Benny Tai Yiu-Ting”, by which he is commonly known. However, his Hong Kong identity card lists only his Chinese name, not his English name “Benny”. He said he had supplied his full name and his picture, and had been operating his account for some time without any problems. Under these circumstances, he did not know why his account was suddenly suspended. A similar complaint has been made by Leung Kwok-Hung, the chairperson of the League of Social Democrats, whose Facebook account was suspended by the company without explanation. Leung, who is known by his nickname “Long Hair”, is a pan-democratic member of the Legislative Council and has been labeled a radical activist. The Occupy Movement itself has complained that its Facebook account has been impersonated by unidentified people.

8)      Hong Kong-based pro-democracy news website suddenly closed

A Hong Kong-based pro-democracy news site, House News, was suddenly closed, with the co-founder admitting he was “afraid”. The site was established in 2012 by Tony Tsoi Tung-Ho and three others. On July 26, Tsoi posted a closure notice on the front page of the website. He wrote: “Hong Kong has been changed so that it is no longer easy to run a normal media. … The current political atmosphere is extremely disturbing. A number of democracy advocates have been followed, had their past investigated and been smeared. White terror has been spreading throughout society. I felt this stress.” Tsoi said his family also felt the pressure. In the open letter, he admitted: “Despite our popularity, many big companies do not place advertisements on our website because of our critical stance towards the government and Beijing.” The website had an average of 300,000 unique visitors per day the previous month, but in this “abnormal society”, it had never made a profit because advertisement revenues were disproportionately low. Tsoi is one of 10 professionals who publicly vowed to take part in the Occupy Movement, which the Central Government of China and Hong Kong Government have denounced. The Occupy Movement is calling for the Central Government of China to allow Hong Kong to hold the 2017 election for the Hong Kong Chief Executive in 2017 on the basis of genuine universal suffrage.

9)      Media mogul Jimmy Lai admits donating several million to democrats

On July 22, several Hong Kong media outlets disclosed that Jimmy Lai, Chairperson of Next Media Group, had donated several million dollars to a number of pro-democracy individuals, including legislative councilors, since 2012. It said an unidentified person forwarded several personal mails between Lai and his management staff member Mark Simon to media people. Lai admitted that his and Simon’s mail accounts were hacked by unknown people. At the same time, he also admitted he had donated money to several democrats out of his own pocket. Although Hong Kong does not have laws to compel all political parties to disclose donations, several pro-establishment media outlets and legislative councilors said certain democrats might have breached some rules, but did not specify who they were.

10)   HKJA sets up committee to monitor media self-censorship

Hong Kong Journalists Association established a committee to monitor the escalating problem of self-censorship in the Hong Kong media industry. On July 6, the HKJA released its annual report, entitled Press Freedom under Siege. It reported that several press freedom violations occurred between July 2013 and June 2014. At the same time, Sham Yee-lan, Chairperson of HKJA, announced that a committee to monitor self-censorship had been established. The committee comprises nine persons, including intellectuals, media workers, critics and lawyers. The committee will publish all complaints after careful investigation in the hope that this will discourage self-censorship in the media.

11) Former editor-in-chief returns to work after brutal attack

Kevin Lau Chun-to, the Hong Kong-based former Editor-in-Chief of Ming Pao, returned to work on August 1, six months after being targeted in a brutal attack. On February 26, two men armed with meat cleavers attacked Lau, slashing his back and legs. The attackers fled immediately. Two suspects were later arrested in Guangdong, Guangzhou Province, in Mainland China. Lau’s wife has insisted that Kevin Lau does not have any financial or personal problems. Ming Pao submitted to the police department several news reports which it believes may have triggered the violence. After the attack, thousands of media workers petitioned the Police Department, calling for an investigation. After an investigation lasting several days, Andy Tsang, the Commissioner of Police, claimed there was no indication that the attack was related to press freedom. His statement drew a public outcry, because the case has not yet gone to trial.

Serenade Woo

IFJ Project Manager

IFJ Asia-Pacific

asiapacific.ifj.org

ifj@ifj-asia.org

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