IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin: December 2014

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on January 8, 2015.

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Please distribute this bulletin widely among colleagues in the media.

In this bulletin:

1) New wave of “Occupy” protests triggers police violence and malicious accusations

2) Veteran media figure suffers violent attack

3) TVB journalists suffer apparent retaliation

4) Hong Kong band forbidden to stage concert after supporting Occupy Movement

5) Philippines Government removes nine Hong Kong journalists from visa blacklist

6) Open Letter to head of China’s legal system demands fair trial for Gao Yu

7) Three journalists and five publications punished on Mainland

8) Two writers sentenced to more than a year in prison for accepting bribes

1) New wave of “Occupy” protests triggers police violence and malicious accusations

As the Occupy Movement continued in Hong Kong, one of the major protest areas, Mong Kok, was cleared by police and bailiffs after an injunction was issued by the Hong Kong High Court. The first day of the clearance, on November 25, triggered another wave of protests. At least 200 people were arrested and many were seriously hurt by police using batons. Dozens of police were also injured. In a series of scuffles, journalists were shoved and harassed by pepper spray and tear gas. Three journalists were accused of “assaulting a police officer” and “snatching a police gun” while they were carrying out their duties. Two Hong Kong legislative councillors were among those who accused the journalists.

a) On the night of November 25, a member of a Now Television crew was accused of “assaulting a police officer” and pushed to the ground by several officers. Now TV footage showed there was chaos after police used pepper spray to disperse dozens of peaceful protesters. One officer tried to remove a ladder from the Now Television crew while the team was reporting. A crew member surnamed Li defended the ladder, and then tried to leave the scene. Suddenly a police officer grabbed him from behind and shoved him onto the ground. Dozens of officers surrounded Li, and ignored him and his colleagues when they repeatedly called out that they were journalists. Li sustained a black eye and injuries to his body. In a press conference, police claimed the police officer’s right leg was injured by the ladder but gave no evidence to prove this claim. Li said police did not charge him because there was not enough evidence to prove the allegation. Now Television issued a statement of regret and the IFJ’s affiliate, the Hong Kong Journalists Association, condemned the police action.

B) A photographer with Oriental Daily was threatened with arrest if he continued to use a flash to take photos of police clearing the demonstration. In the early hours of November 26, a senior police officer claimed the photographer had used his flash many times, thereby irritating the officers’ eyes. The officer said: “Don’t use your flash – otherwise I will arrest you!” Police insisted on recording details of the photographer’s personal identity before allowing him to leave.

C) A crew from another Hong Kong-based television station, Asia Television, were threatened with arrest by a station sergeant if they continued to film the clearance action.

D) Lynn Lee of Al Jazeera and Isabella Steger of The Wall Street Journal were shoved and jostled by Hong Kong police. Lee was pushed to the ground from behind by unknown people. She suffered severe bruising on her knees and her camera lens was damaged.

E) Wang Lin of New Zealand Asia Television was shoved during the clearance at Mong Kok. He said he was pushed onto the ground and assaulted by three Hong Kong police officers several times, receiving injuries to his legs, back and shoulders.

F) Lam Po-yik, a camera operator for Hong Kong-based Apple Daily, was accused of trying to snatch a police officer’s gun when he was filming police attempting to disperse protesters at the junction of Soy Street and Sai Yeung Choi Street in Mong Kok on November 26. Lam said police initially accused him of snatching the gun, but this was changed to “touching” the gun.

G) Wong Chun-lung, a camera operator for Hong Kong-based Apple Daily, was accused of assaulting a police officer when he was filming the same action in Mong Kok on November 26. However, South China Morning Post’s online footage showed a man believed to be Wong holding his camera to film protesters. A police officer’s forehead accidentally knocked the camera when he turned around. The officer immediately shoved the camera, and several uniformed police officers immediately surrounded and pushed the operator to the ground and handcuffed him. After almost six hours in detention, Wong was released on bail. Wong told the IFJ: “I have absolutely no idea how I could be accused of ‘assaulting a policeman’. I was just exercising my duties in the normal manner and did not use my camera to touch any police officer at all.”

H) Many camera operators, photographers and journalists were hit in the eyes by pepper spray while police were dispersing hundreds of protesters on December 1 at Lung Wo Road and Tamar Park.

Five media associations, including IFJ affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), the RTHK Programme Staff Union and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, organized a joint complaint to police headquarter after two journalists were accused of “assaulting a police officer”. The HKJA also complained that Ip Kwok-him and Ma Fung-Kwok, two pro-establishment legislative councillors, made a false and inappropriate statement after the two journalists were falsely accused by the police.

The IFJ Asia Pacific Office said: “It is very concerning that Hong Kong police are expanding their powers but ignoring their responsibilities towards the public and media. According to Chapter 39 of the Police General Orders, all officers at the scene of an incident shall ‘facilitate the work of the news media as much as possible and accord media representatives consideration and courtesy; and not block camera lenses”. The media is a watchdog and it is journalists’ duty to prevent civil servants abusing their powers. The Hong Kong police have clearly forgotten they are under surveillance by the public, and are instead expanding their powers over others.”

We urge the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, and all international human rights organizations, as well as the governments of Britain and the United States, to continue to monitor the situation in Hong Kong and express their concern to the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-Ying, and the President of China, Xi Jinping.

2) Veteran media figure suffers violent attack

Stephen Shiu Yeuk-Yuen, a founder of online outlet Memehk.com, was assaulted on November 24. According to various reports, two cars blocked Shiu’s car when he finished his programme at around 11 o’clock. Unidentified people smashed the driver’s side window of Shiu’s car with an iron rod, and seriously damaged the door. Shiu’s driver immediately drove to a police station. Police later found a burnt-out car and suspected it was involved in Shiu’s case. Shiu said he believed the attack was related to his speech about the Occupy Movement, in which he encouraged people to use their creative ability to show force to the Hong Kong Government on November 21 at Admiralty, one of the target areas of the Occupy Movement. Police are still investigating the case.

3) TVB journalists suffer apparent retaliation

In the early hours of October 15, a TVB camera operator captured footage of seven police officers pushing an Occupy Movement protester into a dark corner and beating him for four minutes. The incident occurred when police were attempting to clear a demonstration on Lung Wo Road, Admiralty, where a dozen protesters were trying to occupy the road outside the office of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. At the TVB studios, chief editor Wong Pun-Nam, assignments editor Peri Chow, and assistant assignments editor Ho Wing-Hong were on duty. Ho wrote the script for the news item, with the approval of Chow and Wong, based on what he saw in the footage. The item was broadcast several times in early morning news bulletins. After the 6.30 bulletin, the two editors received a call from the head of the news department, Keith Yuen, who demanded it be removed from the 7.00 bulletin. When it was shown next, the voice-over describing the attack was deleted. This immediately drew a public outcry and allegations that TVB had self-censored. Several hours later, the news item was aired again. The voiceover was restored but the script was changed in minor ways. Yuen called an internal meeting to explain his decision. Two weeks later, Ho was demoted to chief researcher. On November 13, Wong was made assistant to the editor of the main daily news bulletin and Chow was told that she would lose a quarter of her annual bonus. About 80 journalists issued an open letter about the editorial changes. They wrote: “Using this version (with the voice-over deleted) means the truth is missing from the report. We would like to reiterate that the script for the voice-over was factual and objective. The description did not involve any personal feeling or position.” Six media associations, including the IFJ’s affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association, issued a joint statement disputing Yuen’s explanation. In the statement they reminded the media, particularly senior management, not to censor their own reports.

4) Hong Kong band forbidden to stage concert after supporting Occupy Movement

Hong Kong-based independent pop band My Little Airport was told their concert in Guangzhou was cancelled on December 6 after they composed a song showing support for the Occupy Movement. The organizer did not give any explanation for the cancellation.

5) Philippines Government removes nine HK journalists from visa blacklist

Eric Lee Kwok-Keung, a Hong Kong-based camera operator for Now TV, was prevented from entering Philippines on November 20 and had to return to Hong Kong. He later received a letter from Philippine Airlines stating that eight Hong Kong journalists, as well as Lee, would be banned from entering the country to cover the APEC summit in Manila next year. The media outlets affected – Now Television, Commercial Radio and Hong Kong Radio Television – immediately protested. HKJA protested outside the Philippines Consulate in Hong Kong. The Philippines government then removed the nine journalists from the blacklist. In 2013, nine Hong Kong journalists and camera operators allegedly heckled the President of Philippines during the APEC summit. The journalists were demanding his response to a car hijack in Manila in 2010 in which eight Hong Kong people were killed.

6) Open Letter to head of China’s legal system demands fair trial for Gao Yu

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) wrote an open letter to the President of the Supreme People's Court of China, Zhou Qiang, and the Procurator-General of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, Cao Jianming, to uphold the principle of the rule of law when dealing with the trial of veteran journalist Gao Yu on November 21. In the open letter, the IFJ reiterated that Gao’s prosecution is wrong and reminded Zhou and Cao that the government has repeatedly said that China is a country governed by rule of law. The IFJ agrees with the direction in which China is moving and hopes China truly understands that the “rule of law” means the government does not stand above any law. The IFJ urges the government to ensure all judges and officers of Procuratorate in Gao’s case are able to work without coming under improper influence. According to various media reports, Gao’s defence lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said the Procuratorate has pressured Gao to admit she released a sensitive document by threatening that her son will be prosecuted by the police. Mo has already asked the authorities to refuse to accept evidence that was illegally obtained. Gao will deny all the charges. Gao Yu, who received the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 1999, was arrested in Beijing in April and charged with illegally obtaining state secrets after she was accusing of releasing a Communist Party document to an overseas online media outlet. It has been widely speculated that the document is Document No. 9, which was issued by the Central Committee warning its members against “seven perils” including “universal values,” civil society, and a free press.

7) Three journalists and five publications punished on Mainland

Three journalists and five publications were punished in Mainland China in November. Wang Yaofeng, a commentator with Jiaxing Daily, a local paper directly controlled by the Communist Party, was terminated on November 23. According to an online report by the state-controlled People’s Daily on November 24, a blogger complained that Wang posted “extreme” opinions on his weibo (micro blog) account. However the report did not elaborate on the content of Wang’s supposedly “extreme” messages. According to Hong Kong-based Ming Pao Daily, Wang posted a supportive comment about the Hong Kong Occupy Movement on November 15.

State-owned news agency Xinhua reported on November 23 that the state-controlled All China Journalists Association said Li Jing of West Times was involved in bribery in 2011. Li allegedly incited villagers in Heshui County, Qingyang Prefecture City, Gansu province, to protest against the requisition of land by the local government in order to “extort” 130,000 yuan in public funds from the local County government. Li allegedly used a similar method in Qingcheng County to gain another 130,000 yuan from the local County government. The Xinhua report also said Li “extorted” a necklace and five sets of clothes from the local government bureau.

The other journalist, Guo Haiwen of Charity News, collected 60,000 yuan to help villagers of Wucheng County, Shandong Province, to fight for compensation after their land was requisitioned by local government over the period from 2008 to 2011. The Association also alleged Zhang Jiakou Evening Post did not separate editorial staffs and marketing staffs which violated from the rules given by the SPPRFT in 2005.

Meanwhile, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) announced on November 22 that four publications had been punished with penalties ranging from suspension six months to complete shut-down. The four publications were Commercial Times, a communist party control media in Inner Mongolia, Dianzi Shijie Magazine (Electronic World Magazine), Net Friend World and China Chain Store.

8) Two writers sentenced to more than a year in prison for accepting bribes

Wu Jun and Zhao Yuke were sentenced for 16 to 18 months’ imprisonment by a Beijing court after they were convicted of accepting bribes to report positively and delete negative reports on two companies on a news website. According to official news agency Xinhua on November 14, Wu accepted 50,100 yuan between November 2010 and August 2013, and Zhao accepted 70,000 yuan in return for post favourable reports and deleting negative articles or video about the two companies on www.sina.com.

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.

IFJ Asia-Pacific