Press Freedom in China Bulletin: APRIL

(L-R) League of Social Democrates vice-chairmen Raphael Wong, Lawmaker Shiu Ka-Chan, lawmaker Tanya Chan, reverend Chu Yui-ming, academic Chan Kin-man, academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting, former lawmaker Lee Wing-tat and former student leader Tommy Cheung Sau-yin stand outside the Eastern District Court on March 30, 2017. Nine Hong Kong democracy activists appeared in court on March 30 over the Umbrella Movement mass protests in a case they have criticised as political persecution.

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1)            Charges laid against people connect to 2014 Umbrella Movement

2)            Rights activist wears pajamas at his trial to satirise “the Chinese dream”

3)            Netizen charged after calling President Xi “Steamed Bun Xi”

4)            Puyang Daily staff punished for omitting word from Chinese Premier’s name5)            Chongqing increases punishment for using non-approved VPNs6)            Underground Christian jailed after printing religious publications7)            Vice chairman of CPPCC National Committee criticises internet censorship8)            Patriotic hackers call for cyber-attacks on Korea

9)            Taiwan activist “disappears”; Australian permanent resident detained

10) forbids distribution of overseas publications into Mainland

11)          HKJA seeks judicial relief to challenge Hong Kong’s media policy

12)          HKJA press freedom index shows slight improvement


1)      Charges laid against people connected to 2014 Umbrella Movement

Nine leaders of Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement were charged under outmoded laws with offences allegedly committed during the movement. As well, two ordinary citizens of Guangdong province were imprisoned for forwarding messages relating to the movement. The action against the Mainlanders suggests that the Chinese authorities have begun to treat the Umbrella Movement as a taboo subject similar to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.The nine Hong Kong people charged include three instigators of the Umbrella Movement. They are sociology associate professor Chan Kin-man; law associate professor Benny Tai; and Reverend Chu Yiu-Ming. The other six people are former student leaders Chung Yiu-Wah and Tommy Cheung Sau-ying; lawmakers Tanya Chan Suk-chong and Shiu Ka-Chung; Vice Chairperson of the League of Social Democrats Wong Ho-Ming; and former lawmaker Lee Wing-Tat. The charges include inciting others to create a public nuisance; conspiracy to commit public nuisance; and inciting others to incite others to commit public nuisance. Many veteran lawyers said the charges had never been used in Hong Kong. More than 200 scholars from local and overseas universities signed a joint statement criticising the prosecution of the Hong Kong activists for their leadership role in the movement. The nine people will appear in court on 25 May.Two Mainland supporters of the movement were given heavy penalties after they forwarded messages about the Umbrella Movement through the internet and social media in 2014. On March 31, Su Changlan was sentenced to three years in prison and Chen Qitang was sentenced to four years and six months. According to several media reports, the Foshan Intermediate People’s Court said: “Their actions constitute the crime of incitement to subvert state power." The court said the activists used the internet and social media to spread rumours and defamatory remarks, and that they repeatedly published or forwarded articles and posts containing attacks on the socialist system. One of the defence lawyers said the sentencing hearing lasted for only three minutes and the judge did not ask whether the defendants would appeal the case.

2)      Rights activist wears pajamas at his trial to satirise “the Chinese dream”

Rights activist Chen Yunfei was sentenced for four years in prison by the Wuhou District People’s Court in Sichuan for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble". Chenvisited the grave of a 1989 Tiananmen massacre victim on March 31. According to his defence lawyer, Chen wore his pajamas at his trial to satirise President Xi Jinping’s slogan “the Chinese dream”.

3)      Netizen charged after calling President Xi “Steamed Bun Xi”

Wang Jiangfeng, a netizen in Shandong, was charged with “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” on March 30 after he called President Xi Jinping by his forbidden nickname, “Steamed Bun Xi”, on social media. Wang had been detained since September 9, 2016. The prosecution said Wang insulted President Xi on the WeChat and QQ message groups. His defence lawyer said Wang’s language may have been disrespectful and insulting but was not very serious.

4)      Puyang Daily staff punished for omitting word from Chinese Premier’s name

Six media workers at Puyang Daily in Henan province were punished after omitting one word from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s full name in an article published on March 9. The editorial board punished the responsible journalist, editor and other parties connected with the mistake with fines ranging from 200 yuan to 1000 yuan. The paper’s publisher and editor-in-chief volunteered to be punished and promised to improve the proof reading system. However, the Communist Party disciplinary unit within the newspaper did not accept his offer. The unit demanded that the editor of the paper, the proof reading editor, and a member of the editorial board be removed from their positions.

5)      Chongqing increases punishment for using non-approved VPNs

On March 27, the government of Chongqing announced a regulation that will be used to punish people if they visit overseas websites using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that does not have official approval. The regulation said people will be fined from 5000 to 10,000 yuan depending on whether they were acting for personal benefit or commercial gain. The actions that are deemed to be illegal include building and using a VPN without approval to operate an international internet connection. In January 2017, the Central Government of China implemented a policy that aims to suppress service providers and users of VPNs that are not registered in China.

6)      Underground Christian jailed after printing religious publications

On 27 March 2017, Li Hongmin, an underground Christian in Guangzhou, was sentenced to 10 months in prison for “illegally operating a business”. Baiyun District People’s Court said 110,000 religious publications were found at his illegal printing company. Li was helping underground Christians to print Christian publications. He had been detained since June 2016 without trial.7) Vice chairman of CPPCC National Committee criticises internet censorshipLuo Fuhe, vice chairman of the national committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), criticised the internet censorship system for hindering academic research during the National Congress in March. His statement was immediately deleted from the internet. Global Times, English language sister newspaper of state-owned People’s Daily, published an article defending the system. Global Times said it was necessary to take political precautions against dangerous information on the internet. The article immediately drew criticism.

8)      Patriotic hackers call for cyber-attacks on Korea

A group called “honker”, whose members combine hacking skills with Chinese patriotism, posted a message encouraging people to make a series of cyber attacks on Korea from March 24 to 31. It even suggested people use the DDoS and SQL injection methods. The message was ironic, given that China often claims it is the victim of cyber attacks.The Chinese authorities improved its monitoring system and shut down many websites. On April 1, the Cyberspace Administration Bureau in Henan Province announced that 20 websites had been shut down because they did not hold a licence to provide public affairs news.Several overseas media reported that the authorities blocked Pinterest, US-based, female-targeted website, on March 9 without giving any reason. Analysts suggested Pinterest was blocked because some people used it to discuss sensitive human rights issues. As well, a Pinterest page is dedicated to Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Laureate.

9)      Taiwan activist “disappears”; Australian permanent resident detained

On March 19, Taiwanese community college manager Lee Ming-Cheh, 42, a former activist with Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, “disappeared” in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, when he was travelling through Zhuhai from Taiwan to Macau. Lee had been missing for 14 days but nothing was known about the case until his wife revealed his situation in a press conference in Taiwan. Many Mainland activists believed Lee was held under the law for Monitoring Overseas Non-Government Organisations, which allows police to oversee all NGO activities.On March 24, University of Technology Sydney associate professor Feng Chongyi was stopped from boarding his flight from China to Australia. Feng was detained in a unknown place and prevented from communicating with anyone. According to overseas media, Guangzhou government officials stopped Feng from boarding his flight on the grounds that it was a matter of “national security”. On April 2, Feng was allowed to leave but was required to promise he would not to say anything about what happened while he was detained. Several overseas media said Feng was detained because he was investigating the mass arrests of human rights lawyers in July 2015.

10) forbids distribution of overseas publications into Mainland

On March 10, popular shopping website forbade anyone to purchase non-Mainland publications and digital games for Mainlanders. China has recently increased legal barriers in order to monitor all publications, animations and games entering China. Taobao is operated by internet commerce giant Alibaba.

11)    HKJA seeks judicial relief to challenge Hong Kong’s media policy

On March 16, 10 days before the Hong Kong chief executive election, 12 online-only media outlets issued a joint statement to the Hong Kong Government requesting accreditation to enter the election venue. The government refused the request on March 21. Two days later, IFJ-affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association filed a lawsuit against Hong Kong Government claiming it had discriminated against online-only media and prevented them from enjoying the same rights as traditional media. On March 24, after hearing both parties’ submissions, the High Court granted leave for judicial review. However the court declined to order the Hong Kong Government to accredit the HKJA’s 38 online-only members. Since 2012, the HKJA has urged the government to update its media policy in line with changes in the media landscape across the globe. However the Hong Kong Government has refused to change its policy. Lau Kong-Wah, the Secretary of Home Affairs, has declined to meet with HKJA delegations.

12)   HKJA press freedom index shows slight improvement

The Hong Kong Press Freedom Index showed a slight improvement in 2016 compared with the previous two years. The improvement was somewhat surprising given that the survey covered the period of the disappearances of workers from Causeway Bay Bookstore. This event represented an alarming suppression of press freedom. The general public gave press freedom a score of 48, an increase of 0.6 points over 2015. Journalists rated press freedom at 39.4, up a more significant 1.2 points. Despite the improvement, the chairperson of HKJA, Sham Yee-lan, described the result as worrying, stating that both indexes were still below the “passing score” of 50. Sham said the slight increase in the Index was likely to be related to the emergence of online media, which had slightly increased diversity in the industry. The index ranges from 0 to 100. The improvement was the first in four years.

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