Press Freedom in China Bulletin: December

BBC John Sudworth as he tries to interview an independent candidate for the upcoming elections in Beijing. Credit: BBC

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1) Foreign journalist harassed by dozens of thugs

2) Veteran citizen journalist accused of subversion of state power

3) Writer accused of publishing illegally

4) Disappearance of human rights lawyer ignored by media

5) Independent documentary forced to halt screening in HK   

6) HK Ombudsman rules in favour of HK union    7) UNESCO encourages internet universality


1)    Foreign journalist harassed by dozens of thugs

On November 17, BBC journalist John Sudworth and his crew were harassed by more than twenty men wearing masks as he attempted to interview an independent candidate for the local council election in Beijing. The men used their backs to block the entrance to the candidate’s house. When the candidate tried to open the window to talk to the reporter, the men used cardboard to obscure him/cover the windows. Sudworth told the IFJ that he and his team received “a few bumps and knocks” from the men, and that “it was maybe a bit heavier than the usual but sadly not unprecedented”. According to reports from international media, many journalists found it difficult to interview independent candidates running in the election, and several of the candidates were forced to ‘travel’ to other provinces in order to speak to reporters and local residents.

2)    Veteran citizen journalist accused of subversion of state power

Veteran citizen journalist Liu Feiyue from online media portal was arrested by police in Suizhou, Hubei province, accused of subverting state power. According to several overseas media organisations, Feiyue was arrested on the evening of November 17 but not given a specific charge until November 24. Feiyue had previously been arrested for reporting on the repression of grass roots dissidents. He was detained for several days before the Sixth Plenary Communist Party Committee meetings in Beijing in October, taken to a ‘black prison’ hotel where many other dissidents accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble in the internet” were also detained.

3) A writer accused of publishing illegally

Xiong Feijun, a historical writer, was reportedly taken away by police in Hong’an county, Wuhan, Hubei Province, on December 8. According to overseas media reports, Feijun was accused of publishing illegally; however, the details remain elusive. Feijun has reportedly written two books about social issues in China in 2005 and 2012.

4) Disappearance of human rights lawyer ignored by media

Jiang Tianyong, a human rights lawyer, has been missing since November 21. However, news of his disappearance did not surface until international media reports revealed it this month. According to the Guardian, Tianyong was out of communication with his family members and friends for weeks. They suspected Tianyong was being detained by authorities because of his liaison with a UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. After his disappearance, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement saying, “We cannot rule out the possibility that Jiang may have been taken by state agents because of his human rights work. We fear that Jiang’s disappearance may be directly linked to his advocacy and he may be at risk of torture.” The report quoted Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur, who said he was “deeply concerned that Jiang’s disappearance has occurred, at least in part, in reprisal for his cooperation with the UN during my visit to China.” Tianyong has been targeted by the authority for years, subject to state-sanctioned violence and detention. His disappearance has not been reported on by any media outlets in China.

5) Independent documentary forced to halt screening in HK    

Evans Chan, an independent film maker in Hong Kong, was asked halt the screening of his documentary, Umbrella Revolution, this month. According to several HK media reports, the screening was pre-arranged by the Hong Kong Centre of the Asia Society in December. However, Chan received a notice from the centre to stop screening his documentary because the post-screening forum guests were ‘non-partial’ and were only pro-democracy. Chan disagreed with the allegation. The centre receives sponsorship from many pro-government supporters.

6) HK Ombudsman ruled against HK Government   

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), an IFJ affiliate, successfully complained to the Ombudsman that the HK Government has been denying the participation of online media organisations in Government press events and information dissemination system. On December 7, the Ombudsman ruled against the HK Government and in favour of HKJA’s allegation. In the judgement, the Ombudsman said the Government has failed to properly legislate a press policy in line with the changing media industry; “The new media in Hong Kong and other parts of the world have shown rapid development. These new media are on a par with the traditional media in terms of functionality, and some have even outpaced the latter… [The] Information Services Department (ISD) should think outside of the box.” The Ombudsman rejected the Government’s argument that changing policy would lead to security risks. It made three recommendations; including a review of the current practices, and the adoption of a more open policy to accommodate new forms of media. Six online media organisations immediately issued a joint statement to fight for their rights to report.

7) UNESCO encourages internet universality

UNESCO has published a new report entitled ‘Human Rights and Encryption’ this month, which promotes that countries implement ‘internet universality’. The report provides an overview of encryption technologies, their role in the media, and their impact on different services, end users, and human rights. Recommendations on encryption policy were made, including a suggestion to recognise cryptographic methods as an essential element of the media from a human rights perspective and a recommendation to empower individuals in the protection of their privacy and freedom of expression. States were advised to refrain from imposing general restrictions on the deployment of encryption by users and relevant service providers, and internet intermediaries and the private sector were encouraged to continue implementing all suitable security measures to help establish and promote the enjoyment of privacy and freedom of expression by users. 

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