Press Freedom in China Bulletin: December

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent onJan 13, 2016.

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In this bulletin:

1) Gao Yu sentence reduced and released under medical parole

2) Shaanxi Propaganda Department official carried press card, recorded journalists

3) China Central Television disconnected President of Taiwan Ma Ying-Jeou’s speech

4) Dozens of trespassers break into a media office

5) A former mainland journalist revealed state censorship; sought asylum in India

6) Maps and books confiscated from departing expats

7) Foreign journalist attacked in editorial, denied press card

8) Activist sentenced to six years after almost two and a half years pre-trial detention

9) New set of rules established which uphold that the Communist Party rules China

10) Hong Kong journalist denied entry to the Philippines in suspected retaliation

11) Hong Kong bookstore owner and staff disappear for more than a month

12) Hong Kong Journalist’s Association criticises government for delaying an announcement

13) Asia Television fined for delayed payment, director resigned

14) Governments of China and Hong Kong increased removal requests to Google in 2014

15) Mainland funds injected into Hong Kong media outlet

1)    Gao Yu sentence reduced and released under medical parole

On November 26, the High Court of Beijing, following a one-day closed-door appeal trial, overruled the original sentence handed down to veteran journalist Gao Yu from seven years to five years. Her conviction was not overturned, with the judge citing her televised confession.

Gao Yu’s defence lawyer Mo Shaopping said: “We do not think Gao should be prosecuted and found guilty. We demand Gao be released immediately. However this is the final appeal, we will ask for medical parole while Gao has been suffering from different illness. Currently her health condition is ok.” 

Shortly after the decision was handed down regarding the sentence regarding, local media reported that the court had granted Gao Yu medical parole.

Gao’s case was aired by the state-owned China Central Television in the main news bulletin but no media has been allowed to enter into the court. Furthermore no individual journalist or vehicle was allowed to get close to the court building and police did not allocate a press zone. A Hong Kong journalist told IFJ that he was sternly told by police not to approach the court building on November 26. Mainland media republished Xinhua articles but messages or articles about Gao Yu on social media were deleted.

A close friend of Gao told IFJ that she is staying with a friend and is allowed to choose her own doctor to cure her illness. She remains under 24 hour surveillance.  

2)Shaanxi Propaganda Department official carried press card, recorded journalists

Xin Yulan, vice director of the Shaanxi Propaganda Department joined a press conference to record the questions asked by journalists.

Reporting by the Hua Shang Daily suggested that the Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Shaanxi province may be cheating public funds. When the hospital organised a press conference journalists present reported that Xin sat among them carrying a press accreditation card and recording their questions.

3) China Central Television disconnected President of Taiwan Ma Ying-Jeou’s speech

On November 7, Chinese President Xi Jinping met Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore. It was the first cross-Taiwan Strait summit since the civil war divided Communist Party and Chinese Nationalist Party in 1949. More than 620 journalists from 195 international media organisations were present for the meeting.

China Central Television (CCTV) arranged a live signal to broadcast Xi’s speech, however it disconnected the signal when Ma was about to make his speech, causing outcry among netizens. CCTV did not explain this decision.

The day before, on November 6, CCTV attracted similar criticism when it blurred the Taiwanese flag in a story about the meeting of the two leaders.

4) Dozens of trespassers break into a media office

Watching, a newly established online media outlet, reported on November 5 that Zhuoda Group was suspected misleading the public in order to attract investment. Zhuoda issued a denial on the next day and threatened to make a police complaint and file a lawsuit.

Following the denial some male staff of Watching complained that they were followed by strangers when they went to rest room. Initium Media reported that those strangers chanted “Kill you, very simple!” behind the staff’s backs on November 9. On November 10 more than fifty people trespassed into the office of Watching in Beijing. They stayed inside the office for twelve hours, ignoring police warnings. When they left, a coach took them away.

Watching staff complained they were prevented from continuing their work during the sit-in.            

5) A former mainland journalist revealed state censorship; sought asylum in India

In a series of reports from Radio Free Asia beginning November 6, Li Xin, former Nandu online editor, revealed there was a censorship system in the media. It includes a ‘black list’ of ‘liberal’ people whose articles aren’t allowed to be published and ‘white list’ of authors who should be encouraged.

Li also revealed he was coerced to operate undercover for the security bureau of Yunan and Hanan province. During that time he had to report on the activities of civil society and liberal scholars in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. Li sought asylum on the fear of retaliation by the Chinese government following the disclosures.

6) Maps and books confiscated from departing expats

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China reported on November 1 that some foreign journalists faced obstacles moving out China.

Journalists said some items were labelled as ‘sensitive’ by moving companies and could not be shipped out of the country. Those ‘sensitive’ properties included books, maps, globes, DVDs and some printed materials. In some cases such materials have been confiscated by customs authorities at the Tianjin port, resulting in long delays in reporters’ household goods arriving at their destination.

When different moving companies in Beijing were approached they gave same answer. Representatives said anyone with a ‘J’ visa (journalist visa) is subject to particular scrutiny from customs inspectors. One reporter who shipped personal belongings this year said that he suspects all his notes may have been photocopied or photographed.

7) Foreign journalist attacked in editorial, denied press card

On November 20 the Global Times published an editorial which said that Ursula Gauthier, a correspondent for French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, was ‘seriously distorting the reality of Xinjiang’, ‘biased’ and has ‘lost the basis of common sense’. The comments follow an article she published on November 18 which cited examples of ruthless repression in the restless region.

The Global Times is a state-owned media outlet and sister company of the People’s Daily.

Following the editorial Gauthier also received an email from an unknown source that included the Global Times article in the body. She was also summoned to the International Press Centre, which is controlled by the Foreign Ministry to meet with officers.

Gauthier said: “One of the officers insisted that I was wrong and have to recognise it, but I stand by every word that I wrote in my article. At some point the officer shouted at me. Actually, I did try to explain to them but they simply did not accept it.”

On November 23, the China Daily published a similar article criticising Gauthier. She has also received abuse and threatening messages via Facebook and in the comments section on the Global Times article. Gauthier said that she originally found the messages posted on a website that discussed military issues in Mainland China.

On November 27, Gauthier went to collect her new press card which she had applied for on November 12, however the card remains unavailable.

Gauthier said “I’m the only one who cannot receive my press card. The officer cannot answer what the reason is behind this and even can’t tell me when I can get it. It’s clearly because of my published article.”   

8) Activist sentenced to six years after almost two and a half years pre-trial detention

Activist Yang Maodong, pen name Guo Feixiong, was sentenced to six years imprisonment on November 27 after he assembled several protests to fight for individual rights.

In 2013, Yang assembled a protest to support journalists of the Southern Weekly to fight for press freedom. The paper’s New Year 2013 Special Edition was censored by the director of Guangdong propaganda department. He also organised a protest to demand government officials disclose their private wealth.

Guo was originally charged with assembling a crowd to disrupt public order; he was then subsequently charged with picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.

A Hong Kong-based civil rights organisation, the China Human Lawyers Concern Group (CHLCG), condemned the conviction and accused the authority of violating due process. The CHLCG said that the judge Zheng Xin of the Guangzhou Tianhe People’s Court did not follow the legal procedure of ensuring the defence lawyer had enough time to collect evidence to refute the newly additional charge.

Gao was reportedly suffered abuse during his almost two and a half year pre-trial detention which including the denial of walking time for 840 days and being detained in an overcrowded cell. The cell reportedly accommodated over 30 inmates in a space no larger than 30m2.

9) New set of rules established which uphold that the Communist Party rules China

The China Alliance of Radio, Film and Television was formed and announced ten self-regulatory principles for their members. Called the News, Publication, Radio, Film and Television Workers’ Ethnics Self-regulatory Agreement, the second rule states that all media workers should defend the interests of the ruling party and not publish damaging information.

Section 6 states that members will be ineligible for jobs in the industry for three years if that member violates the second rule and causes an adverse effect to society.

It is believed that at least 50 organisations have already signed up the self-regulatory agreement. No information is known about how the alliance was formed, their membership base or how the rules were set.

10) Hong Kong journalist denied entry to the Philippines in suspected retaliation

On November 15 a journalist of Hong Kong Commercial Radio was prevented from entering the Philippines to report the 2015 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

Commercial Radio of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) believed it was in retaliation to Hong Kong journalists asking Philippine President Benigno Aquino about the 2010 Manila hostage killings from the sidelines of Bali APEC Summit in 2013. All journalists from Hong Kong were then immediately demanded to leave the venue.

The journalist denied entry was not in Bali in 2013, but had registered for a media pass for the meeting. HKJA points out the ban is actually a consequence of the blacklist and the way the Filipino authorities handling media is totally unreasonable.

11) Hong Kong bookstore owner and staff disappear for more than a month

In early November overseas media reported that Hong Kong bookstore owner Gui Minghai, a Chinese-Swedish citizen, and staff members Lu Bo, Lin Rongji and Zhang Zhiping were disappeared.

According to articles posted online Gui was taken away by Chinese-speaking people in Thailand where he had recently bought an apartment. A week later, on 24 October, Gui‘s three colleagues went missing in Shenzhen, mainland China.

The four missing people’s family members refused to release further information. Gui has emigrated to Sweden when he studied aboard and was a member of Chinese Independent PEN for a period of time. There is no indication that Gui had participated in any pro-democracy events.  

12) Hong Kong Journalist’s Association criticised government for delaying an announcement

On 25 November the Highways Department of Hong Kong issued a statement to inform the public that there would be a year delay in the construction of the local portion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. The bridge was originally planned to be finished in 2016. The announcement came late in the evening following speculation about a delay in the project’s completion.

13) Asia Television fined for delayed payment, director resigned

Hong Kong-based Asia Television (ATV) Executive Director Ip Ka-Po was fined HK$150,000 in the District Court for failing to pay staff wages on December 2.

Following the sentence Ip said that he was also an employee and did not receive a full salary. In addition he said he would not quit, and instead sought funds to pay 700 ATV workers in order to keep their jobs. Ip was found guilty of 102 summonses under the Employment Ordinance related to his role being an Executive Director in ATV's failure to pay 24 employees on time between July and November in 2014. The outstanding HK$1.13 million wages were later paid.

In November 2015 the company was again in arrears on employee wages, having not raised enough from investors to pay more than half the staff. On December 7 Ip resigned as executive director. He has said that his court conviction is “the greatest stain” in his life.

14) Governments of China and Hong Kong increased removal requests to Google in 2014

According to Google transparency report, China made 28 removal requests in 2014, around seven times more than in 2013. The total items requested to remove was 304 in which was more than a double in 2013.

One of the requests made in 2014 related to a Google+ profile and blog that was allegedly linked to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. Google eventually removed this one due to they had violated from their policies.

The Hong Kong government also increased the number of removal request in 2014. The report said HK Government requested 5 removals in 2014, up from 2 the previous year. The total items requested for removal in 2014 was 24 but only 4 in 2013.

In one example the Technology Crime Division of the Hong Kong Police Commercial Crime Bureau claimed a video on YouTube was a false. The video related to Hong Kong police assaulting an arrested person inside a police vehicle. In this case Google did not grant the request. The report also said Hong Kong government requests were related to defamation (40%), privacy and security (20%) and other (40%).

15) Mainland funds injected into Hong Kong media outlet

According reports Alibaba Group Holding founder Jack Ma Yun was revealed having a discussion with Malaysian billionaire Robert Kuok Hock Nien, owner of South China Morning Post (SCMP) about buying a stake in the newspaper. SCMP has had three years of declining profits. Ma Yun has been invested various online media in mainland China including Sina.com, Watching and YiCai.com.

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