Press Freedom in China Bulletin: February

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent onMarch8, 2016.

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In this bulletin:

1)          IFJ launches China’s Great Media Wall: The Fight For Freedom

2)          Wuwei police detained three journalists

3)          A second mainlander disappears in Thailand

4)          Televised confessions continue into the new year

5)          HK political magazine staff interrogated

6)          Xinjiang activist jailed for 19 years

7)          Three journalist injured in police attack

8)          Foreign journalist finds locked window opened in Beijing

9)          Journalist detained and questioned in Jilin Province

10)      Series of restrictive orders issued as the government tries to take control

11)      Inner Mongolian herders threatened after accepting foreign media interviews

12)      State Council of China tightens grip on the internet  

13)      Beijing police recruit thousands of students as ‘cyber police’

14)      ATV cash woes persist

15)      HK police asked an online media to provide information

1)      IFJ launches China’s Great Media Wall: The Fight For Freedom

On January 30, the IFJ launched its eighth China Press Freedom Report, China’s Great Media Wall: The Fight For Freedom. The 2015 report is an annual analysis of press freedom and the ever increasing challenges and obstacles for journalists and media workers in China, Hong Kong and Macau. “Propaganda, censorship, surveillance, intimidation, detention, brutality, attacks and televised ‘confessions’ have become go-to tools for the government as they tighten their grip on the media and press in 2015,” the IFJ said.

China’s Great Media Wall: The Fight for Freedom documents the broader issues impacting the work of local journalists and media workers across Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, as well as foreign journalists and online media. For the first time, the report also includes an IFJ assessment on the number of jailed and detained journalist and media workers and documents at least 51 cases, some dating back to 2009.

Read more here, access the reports here and access the jailed list here.

The IFJ has also released a digital security resource to support journalists in China. The resource is currently available online on the IFJ website.

2)      Wuwei police arrest three journalists

On January 7, Zhang Yongsheng, a reporter with state-run Lanzhou Morning Herald was arrested by Wuwei City police. Zhang was initially arrested for prostitution but later the charge was changed to extortion. An official government website accused Zhang of “using his position as a journalist in the name of public opinion supervision, to repeatedly extort goods and money from others.”

On January 8, Wuwei City police also detained Luo Huansu of the Lanzhou Evening Post and Zhang Zhenguo of the Western Business News on similar accusations.

The trio were detained for three weeks, with reports that their family members and defence lawyers were barred from visiting them in custody.

Mainland media strongly criticised the detention and charges, with many claiming the arrests were the result of critical reports that the investigative journalists have published in recent years. On January 30, some small details of the detention of the three journalists were released, while on February 6, the Procuratorate announced that Zhang had been charged with extortion, relating to an incident in 2009 and fined 5,000 yuan (USD800). He was released on bail due to good behaviour. Luo and Zhang Zhenguo were released earlier.

3)      A second mainlander disappears in Thailand

On January 11, Li Xin, the former editor of the Southern Metropolis Daily disappeared as he tried to cross the border from Thailand to Laos. On February 3, Li’s wife reported that she spoke with Li, when she attended a police station in Henan. It remains unclear why Li’s wife was at the police station and Li did not reveal where he was staying. He said that he had voluntarily returned to China to assist with investigations. He ended the phone call reminding his wife, ‘be quiet, it is good for both of us’.

Chinese authorities are yet to receive any news regarding Li’s ‘disappearance’ and the investigation in Henan. In October 2015, Li fled to India after he was forced to become a state security spy for Henan province and another province. He told media at the time, that the role required him to report on the activities of dissidents in Guangzhou and Hong Kong. He also revealed that censorship systems had been installed in the news room of theSouthern Metropolis Daily

4)      Televised confessions continue into the new year

On January 17, Gui Minhai, a Swedish national and co-owner of Might Current Publicationand Causeway Bay bookstores, appeared on state-owned CCTV, after he went missing in October 2015, while on holiday in Thailand. According to reports, Gui disappeared when he was taken into custody by Chinese authorities in China. During his televised confession, Gui said that he had voluntarily returned to Mainland China to face charges over a fatal drink driving incident 12 years ago.

Four other employees of Might Current Publicationand Causeway Bay bookstores have disappeared since October last year, including Lee Bo who disappeared in Hong Kong. On February 4, Hong Kong police announced that according to the information released by Guangdong Police Bureau, three people in addition to Gui were involved in Gui’s criminal act. However the release did not give any details about the case.   

In a separate incident on January 19, Swedish NGO worker, Peter Dahlin made a televised confession on CCTV, ‘admitting’ that ‘he was hurting the feelings of the Chinese people’. Dahlin founded the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group in Mainland China to help lawyers and activists and inform them of their rights. Dahlin also said that ‘almost all his information was collected from the internet’ and that he did not see one single case. State-owned Xinhua said that Dahlin was ‘encouraging the masses to oppose the government’. Dahlin left China on January 25, after 23 days of detention.

5)      HK political magazine staff interrogated by Shenzhen police

In January, Lau Tat-man, the editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong-based monthly political magazine Frontline, told the IFJ that in October 2015, staff were interrogated by Shenzhen police on October 24, 2015. Lau told the IFJ that his staff were interrogated during a visit to Shenzhen in October 2015. One dozen police officers broke into the apartment where they were staying and took Lau into custody. The interrogation lasted a number of hours, and questioning focused on the production of the magazine.

6)      Xinjiang activist jailed for 19 years

On 18 January, Zhang Haitao was sentenced to 19 years in jail for "incitement to subvert state power" and "providing intelligence overseas" by the Intermediate People's Court in Xinjiang. Zhang was arrested and charged with "incitement to subvert state power" after he posted articles online that were critical of Beijing's record in Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, and where hundreds have died in a string of violent incidents in recent years.The court said, Zhang received a longer jail term because he had colluded with overseas organizations.Zhang’s wife Li Aijie, was informed by his defence lawyerabout the court's decision after having just given birth to the couple's son.

7)      Three journalists injured in police attack

On 12 January, three journalists from Yangtse Evening Post and Modern Express Post were covering a protest following a death of a high school student in Squian City in Jiangsu. As they covered the protest, the trio were taken away by police without reason. According to the People’s Daily, the journalists were kicked and punched by officers when they refused to get in the police car. At the police station they were detained for two hours, during which the journalists were punished to stand against the wall and punched by officers. According to officers the journalists were detained for provoking public disorder.

8)      Foreign journalist finds locked window opened in Beijing

Philip Khokhar,Danish Broadcasting Corporation, reported to Foreign Correspondents’ Club that his apartment‘s locked window was strangely opened when he was working in Taiwan to report on the Presidential election in January 2016. In the report, he said his windows are heavy and hardly opened due to heavy wind. He demanded to check the footage of CCTV outside his apartment from the management company of his residential compound but this was refused by the management saying he would need to get permission from the local police. In the report, Philip said it seemed nothing had been taken from the apartment. However, this kind of intrusion happened before, in October 2014, when he was in Hong Kong to cover the Occupy Movement.

9)      Journalists detained and questioned in Jilin Province

On January 8, a Japanese journalist was detained in Jian City in Jilin province when he was trying to head to the border of North Korea. According to the report of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, the journalist was immediately visited by local police when he arrived in the city on January 7. The next morning, his car was followed by five police vehicles and he was detained by police for several hours. During the six hours interrogation, the journalist and driver were asked questions such as “Why did you come here?” “What did you do exactly?” and “Whose instructions are you following?” In addition to that, there were several other Japanese reporters and a British reporter detained in Jilin province but they did not report to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

10)  Series of restrictive order issued as the government continues control the media

a)      On January 14, the authorities issued a restrictive order to all online media that said they cannot issue any independent reports, features or commentaries regarding the formal arrest of 11 human rights lawyers. The order also said that all relevant harmful messages should be deleted from all social media platforms.

b)      On January 16, Tsai Ing-wen was elected as the new President of Taiwan. The Central Authority of China ordered all media not to do any follow up reports. In addition all relevant reports should not be posted to prominent websites, newspapers or bulletins. The order said that all reports on the election should be confined to state media.

c)      On January 16, a restrictive order was issued to all online media ordering them to delete a video of Taiwanese singer, Chou Tzu-yu, who had issued an apology to all Mainlanders after she held up a Taiwan national flag at a show in Korea in 2015. On January 15, Chou made a televised apology under the arrangement of her agency, during which she said: “There is only one China, the two sides of the strait are one, and I have always felt proud to be Chinese. I feel extremely apologetic to my company and to Internet friends on both sides of the strait for the hurt that I have caused, and I also feel very guilty.” The video apology received widespread criticism in Taiwan.  

d)      On January 22, an order was issued to remind all media that they should minimise reporting on more than 10 thousand Mainland netizens who used VPNs to access newly elected Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s Facebook and left critical comments about her.

11)  Inner Mongolian herders threatened after accepting foreign media interviews

According to the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre (SMHRIC), on January 25, a dozen Mongolian herders from south-west Inner Mongolia’s Darhan-Muumigan’s Banner were detained by police for contacting ‘overseas news media and hostile forces’ and ‘engaging in national separatism’. Following several hours of interrogation, the herders were released. Following the detention, many herders received threatening phone calls from the local police warning them not to contact any foreign media or organisations.

12)  State Council of China further tightens grip on the internet

On January 13, the State Council issued a consultation paper regarding the management of the internet. The paper suggested increased investment in online news media as well as increasing the penalty of online media violates regulations. The paper also suggested restraining social media platforms, particularly the rights of people to disseminate news on such platforms.

13)  Beijing police recruit thousands of students as ‘cyber police’

The Beijing Police Bureau announced that they are recruiting students to become online ‘volunteers’ to monitor all messages on the internet. It said they had successfully recruited more than 3000 young people in the last two years. During this period of time, Beijing police reprimand 8400 netizens, deleted more than five hundred thousand online messages and shut down at least 9000 social media accounts.

14)  ATV cash woes persist

Asia Television, a Hong Kong-based free-to-air television station,owes around 300 of staff their two months’ salary. In early February, the management of ATV organized a general meeting with all staff to explain the arrears of wages. During the meeting, the management did not outline when they will pay the outstanding wages. At the same time, senior management blamed the news department to report arrears of wages in the news bulletin during the general meeting. The senior management believed the less income was because of negative reports of the station. On February 5, the station’s chief operations officer, Charles Ma Hay made an apology to all staffs and said “I have tried my best to pay staff their December and January wages today as I promised . But unfortunately the company does not have enough money to do so. Ma resigned after the press conference. The chief news editor sent a message afterwards reminding all remaining staff (around 20) that they should take their compensation leaves instead of turning up for work on February 6. The Labour Department said they had sent representatives to meet staff and had issued a warning letter to ATV management. On February 6, ATV stopped broadcast news bulletin which is a violation of the conditions of its free-to-air television licence.

15)  HK police asked an online media provider to give information

memehk.com, a Hong Kong-based online media provider, reported that they were asked to provide all information about the programme 天外有天, to the Hong Kong police department, without the police providing any reason. The programme was broadcasted onlineon the 16thand 23rd of September 2015. The media believed it might be related to a programme, during which the host encouraged people to attend the anniversary of Occupy Movement.

IFJ Asia-Pacific           
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