IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin: May 2014

To IFJ Asia-Pacific affiliates and friends

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on 8 June 2014, and contributions are most welcome.

To contribute news or information, email ifj@ifj-asia.org. To visit the IFJ’s China Campaign page, go to www.ifj.org.

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In this bulletin:

 

1. Hong Kong publisher sentenced to 10 years’ jail in China

2. “Without cyber security, there is no national security”: President Xi Jinping

3. New campaign against internet users suppresses online communication

4. Prominent Mainland blogger sentenced to three years in jail

5. Outspoken Mainland freelance journalist detained for releasing “state secret”

6. Important incidents given minimal, delayed reporting

7. Reports of former President’s visit to 1980s reformer’s home town delayed

8. Mysterious deaths and disciplinary investigations among state media leaders

9. Four popular American TV shows blocked

10. Hong Kong TV crew detained and harassed in Hunan

11. RTHK Broadcasting Director refuses to put “promote freedom of expression” in staff guide book

12. Self-censorship and management intrusion occur regularly in Hong Kong

13. China’s Vice President asks media to denigrate “Occupy Central Movement”

 

 

1) Hong Kong publisher sentenced to 10 years’ jail in China

 

Hong Kong publisher Yiu Man-tin, also known as Yao Wentian, was sentenced to 10 years’ jail in China while preparing to publish a book by dissident and writer Yu Jie entitled Godfather Xi Jinping. Yiu, 73, was arrested in October last year and sentenced by the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court on May 7 for importing bottles of industrial paint without paying duties. He was also fined 25,000 yuan (US$4,000). His son, Edmond Yiu Yung-chin, told the IFJ that his father had been taking vegetables or milk powder to a friend in Shenzhen for years in return for space to store some books and magazines. However, in July 2013, his father’s friend suddenly asked Yiu to bring him some paints. When he did so, he was suddenly detained. Edmond Yiu said: “My father’s case is simply a case where the authorities wanted to send a chilling message to all Hong Kong people. Anyone who wants to publish any dissenting comments about the authority will suffer the same consequence.” In January, Edmond Yiu wrote an open letter calling on President Xi Jinping to stop the “political persecution” of his father and honour Hong Kong's press freedom. He said Yiu had been harassed before for collaborating with Yu on his earlier book, Hu Jintao: Harmony King, an examination of the former president and his “harmonious” rule. 

 

2) New campaign against internet users suppresses online communication

 

The National Office against Pornographic and Illegal Publications (NOAPIP) renewed its online campaign on April 13. The eighth-month long campaign, Cleaning the Web 2014, has already conducted thorough checkups on websites, search engines and mobile application stores, Internet TV USB sticks, and set-top boxes. According to the NOAPIP circular, all online texts, pictures, videos and advertisements with pornographic content will be deleted. Websites, web channels and columns will be shut down or have their administrative licences revoked if they are found to be producing or spreading pornographic information. The operators of all communication tools have been asked to conduct self-examination to clean up information and links. The state-owned Xinhua News Agency reported that more than 20 literature-related website were forced to shut down as a result of the campaign. However, Xinhua did not give any evidence of how the websites had violated any law. In Hong Kong, democratic legislator Albert Ho reported that his weibo account (a Chinese social microblog) was forcibly shut down in April without explanation. Ho told the IFJ he opened his account last year. He posted only his political views, plus information and events relating to his party, the Hong Kong Democratic Party. Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily News reported on March 14 that almost 100 accounts with We Chat, a spontaneous communication tool operated by Tencent, were shut down on the pretext that they “violated laws and policies”, but no details of the alleged breaches were given.

 

3) “Without cyber security, there is no national security”: President Xi Jinping

 

China’s National Security Commission, meeting on April 15, said that a national security system should cover 11 fields, including culture and information. The chair of the NSC, China’s President Xi Jinping, said the role of the NSC should be “comprehensive and authoritative” so that it could safeguard China's internal and external security. President Xi has previously warned: “Without cyber security, there is no national security.” The National Security Commission was established by the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Central Committee in November 2013. A Central Internet Security and Informatization Leading Group, also led by Xi, was established in February 2014 and tasked with defining China’s cyber security strategy. According to an April 19 report by state-owned Xinhua News Agency, China's National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Coordination Center said in its latest annual report that nearly 11 million Chinese PCs were infected last year. The report said 30 per cent of the attacks stemmed from U.S. sources. About 15,000 computers were hit by Trojan Horse malware and 61,000 websites were targeted with backdoor attacks that originated overseas. Meanwhile, The Australian Financial Review reported on April 28 that Chinese intelligence agencies had penetrated Australia’s parliamentary computer network in 2011 and may have been inside the system for up to a year, with access to documents and emails that revealed political, professional and social links. The newspaper said the report was based on information from seven sources with knowledge of the security breach. A spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry did not answer questions raised by media after the report was published. The spokesperson continued to repeat that “China opposes and forbids any computer hacking” and said it was doubtful whether there was enough evidence to prove the accusation. China claims to have 618 million internet users.

 

4) Prominent Mainland blogger sentenced to three years in jail

 

A prominent blogger, Qin Zhihui, known in cyber space by his penname “Qinhuohuo”, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on April 17 at Chaoyang District People’s Court in Beijing after he admitted he had created and spread rumors about several celebrities in his microblog account. The trial was televised via the microblog service weibo. During the trial, Qin said: “My acts were banned by law. Indeed, I misled the public about celebrities and government… There is freedom on the internet. I crossed the red line and severely damaged the reputation of others… The internet is not a place with no law; I overlooked this point. I ignored the existence of law and morals, and interrupted the normal order in the cyberspace.” China Digital Times reported that the “authorities”, believed to be the State Internet Information Office, ordered that all online portals must exert strong control over any comment about Qin and “clear it up”. Qin is the first person to appear in court on charges of rumour-mongering since the Ministry of Public Security vowed in August 2013 to target those who spread rumours online. However, since the crackdown, police have detained a number of other suspects who are also accused of spreading rumours or posting messages online.

 

5) Outspoken Mainland freelance journalist is detained 

 

Gao Yu, an outspoken freelance Chinese journalist, was detained by the Chinese authorities on accusations of releasing “state secrets” to a Hong Kong media outlet. Gao and two family members have been missing since April 24, amid suspicions that they were forcibly “disappeared” by the authorities. State-owned Xinhua News Agency reported on May 8 that Gao, 70, had released information to a non-Mainland media outlet in August 2013. Although Xinhua did not specify the information involved, it is widely believed to be document “Number 9”, which specifies the seven topics which the Central Government has forbidden people to talk about. These include Western Press Freedom, Western Democracy, and Civil Society. Analysts suspect that Gao, 70, has been detained in the lead-up to the politically sensitive 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4, and because of her recent disclosures of the intensifying conflict among China’s top leaders. Gao sent her last email on April 23, and failed to attend a private gathering on April 26 which was held to commemorate the “April 26 Editorial” in the Communist Party’s People’s Daily in 1989. The editorial called the student-led protests in Tiananmen Square an “anti-party and anti-socialist upheaval” and is regarded as having paved the way politically for the military crackdown in which hundreds, possibly thousands, of people died. Gao is currently working for Deutsche Welle, Radio Free Asia and Hong Kong magazine Mirror Monthly. She has been jailed twice because she wrote about the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In 1999, Gao became the first journalist to receive the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. In 2000 she was named one of the International Press Institute’s 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the twentieth century.

 

6) Important incidents given minimal, delayed reporting

 

A deadly explosion occurred at South Urumqi Railway Station, Xinjiang Province, on April 30, the last day of a visit by the President of China, Xi Jinping, to the southern part of Xinjiang. Four hours later, the state-owned Xinhua News Agency issued an initial report on the incident, saying the explosion caused four casualties but otherwise giving very limited information. Four major websites – Soho, Sina, 163.com and Tencent – did not post the Xinhua report on their front page. According to Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily News, images and comment about the incident were largely deleted from the internet. The next day, Xinhua reported that two suspects, both members of the Uyghur minority, were arrested. Xinhua described them as being under the “prolonged influence of extreme religious thoughts”. Previously, the state has described the suspects as “terrorists”, which is the description given to Uyghurs when several other incidents occurred in the past. 

 

7) Reports of former President’s visit to 1980s reformer’s home town delayed

 

The media delayed by several days reports of a visit on April 11 by the former President of China, Hu Jintao, and his wife to the home town of Hu Yaobang, a former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. All messages and images relating to the visit were deleted from the online realm. Hu Yaobang was admired by students when he led the country during the 1980s because he pursued a series of economic and political reforms. Powerful Communist Party elders who opposed free market reforms forced him to resign. Hu’s death on April 15, 1989, helped spark the student-led democracy movement which was crushed by the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

 

8) Mysterious deaths and disciplinary investigations among state media leaders

 

On April 29, Song Bin, the deputy publisher of Xinhua News Agency in Anhui Province, was found dead in suspicious circumstances in his office. Despite rumours about the case, neither local police not Xinhua released any information about Song’s death. On March 26, Li Wufeng, the deputy director of the State Council Information Office, who was responsible for online monitoring and directing online news reporting, was found dead after apparently falling from the sixth storey of a building. The People’s Daily English language Twitter feed reported that the cause of death was unknown, but the tweet was deleted and the State Propaganda Department issued a directive that internet media must delete all “speculative and accusatory comments”. Since March, at least five senior Government officials with media-related responsibilities, including senior managers from the China Publishing Group Cooperation, the Central Propaganda Department and the State Council Information Office, have been investigated by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party.

 

9) Four popular American TV shows blocked

 

The Chinese authorities prevented Mainland online video sites from broadcasting four popular U.S. television shows: The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, NCIS and The Practice. The removal order was issued by the State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), which said the shows committed “certain violations of state regulations” but gave no further explanation. Analysts said none of the shows had political or sexual content, and the authorities may have wanted to protect the state-owned CCTV or prevent US cultural values from influencing Chinese attitudes. In March, SAPPRFT said online video sites would be punished if they did not submit US and UK shows for censorship by the local department of SARFT before buying them.

 

10) Hong Kong TV crew detained and harassed in Hunan

 

Lam Kin-Seng, a journalist with Hong Kong Cable Television, and Yip Chi-Kwan, a Mainland cameraman and Mainlander driver, were detained for six hours on May 4 by security agents of the police bureau in Shaoyang City, Hunan Province, when they were reporting on a memorial service at a cemetery. The journalists were detained along with six activists who had travelled to a cemetery in Shaoyang to pay tribute to Tiananmen Square dissident Li Wangyang, who died in suspicious circumstances in a Hunan hospital on June 6, 2012. More than 10 policeman and security agents blocked access and took them away. One of the police officers threatened Lam, saying: “I remember who you are!” During the interrogation, police repeatedly asked them what route they took to Shaoyang and whom they had contacted. The officers also checked their cameras and smart phones and demanded that they delete the images. Lam said: “When police officers understood they couldn’t force us to surrender the footage, they asked officers of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office to persuade us.” All the Hong Kong people, including three television crew members, were released on the same day, but the three Mainland activists were punished with five days administrative detention. The police did not specify which law they had broken.

 

11) RTHK Broadcasting Director refuses to put “promote freedom of expression” in staff guide book

 

Roy Tang Yun-kwong, the Director of Public Broadcasting at Radio Television of Hong Kong, refused to adopt a staff committee request to include a commitment to free speech in the guide book for program producers. The committee wanted to include the following sentence: “We promote freedom of expression, open and democratic society, civil participation and a caring community.” Tang said the suggestion did not fit within the definition of public broadcaster under UNESCO and that it was already stated in the RTHK Charter. However, RTHK’s Programme Staff Union chairwoman, Bao Choy Yuk-Ling, said: “The changes we proposed are in line with the principles of a public broadcaster accepted in the West and by the United Nations.” Tang rejected a suggestion by a senior manager to change the wording from “we promote” to “we believe”. Tang then demanded that the manager individually state their view on whether to delete the phase or the whole paragraph. According a report from the staff union, the management took just 15 minutes to decide by majority vote to delete the phase. On May 5, RTHK staff held a blue ribbon protest during a ceremony and requested Tang to wear on, but Tang refused. Blue ribbons have become a symbol of the defence of press freedom among the Hong Kong media since the beginning of 2014. Choy said Tang’s refusal “showed his stance regarding press freedom”.

 

12) Self-censorship and management intrusion occur regularly in Hong Kong

 

A poll of journalists revealed that self-censorship and intrusion by owners or management occur regularly. The survey for a new press freedom index was conducted on April 23 by Hong Kong University, Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Journalists Association. On both these issues, journalists were more negative than the general public. On a scale of zero to 10, where 10 represents “very common”, the public rated self-censorship at 5.4 while journalists gave it 6.9. The public rated pressure from owners or management at 6.2, while journalists gave it 6.5. HKU pollster Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu said the difference in responses between the public and journalists was very significant. He said: “Journalists take a much more pessimistic view of the press freedom situation in Hong Kong than the general public. This could be due to [journalists’] understanding of the industry.” The Hong Kong Journalists Association chairperson, Sham Yee-Lan, said the findings were worrying. “The indexes reflect the fact that Hong Kong’s press freedom is at a low level.” The University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme surveyed 1,018 members of the public in December last year, while the Hong Kong Journalists Association interviewed 422 journalists from December 23 to February 4. The survey findings did not take into account the demotion or the brutal attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-To, or the abrupt sacking of outspoken radio host Li Wei-Ling by Hong Kong Commercial Radio.

 

13) China’s Vice President asks media to denigrate “Occupy Central Movement”

 

A group of senior managers of Hong Kong media outlets were asked by China’s Vice-President, Li Yuanchao, to do more negative reports on the “Occupy Movement”. The “Occupy Central Movement” in Hong Kong is pushing for universal suffrage for the 2017 election for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, in line with international standards. Li’s request triggered concern among a number of pro-democracy legislators and the leaders of the “Occupy Central Movement”, who believe the Central Government may increase pressure on the media to suppress the movement.

 


 

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

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