Press Freedom in China Bulletin: FEBRUARY

Xiao Jianhua who disappeared from Hong Kong on January 28. Credit: Chinese University of Hong Kong

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1) Another Mainlander disappears in Hong Kong

2) Missing TV anchor sentenced to six years in jail

3) Authorities prepare another wave of internet control

4) Activist detained after posting comments in social media

5) Online media outlet warned

6) Prominent scholar's social media account shut down


1)    Another Mainlander disappears in Hong Kong

Xiao Jianhua, the billionaire chief of listed holding company Tomorrow Group, disappeared in Hong Kong in the early hours of Saturday, January 28. The Financial Times reported on January 30 that CCTV footage showed Xiao and his security guards being escorted from his apartment in the Four Seasons Hotel by several people in plain clothes. The report said they left peacefully without a struggle. Xiao was born in China but is a Canadian citizen and holds a diplomatic passport for Antigua and Barbuda. After Xiao’s disappearance was reported, Tomorrow Group posted statements on its WeChat and weibo accounts, but they were immediately deleted without explanation. The statements said Xiao was not abducted and was recovering from an illness outside the country. No information was given about who authorised the statements. Not a single word about Xiao’s case was published in the Mainland media or any Hong Kong media outlet owned by China’s central government. All online information about Xiao was deleted. Xiao is reported to help the “princelings” of the Mainland – the children of high-ranking officials – to “invest” their money.

2)    Missing TV anchor sentenced to six years in jail

CCTV news anchor Rui Chenggang, who has been missing for more than two years, has been convicted of taking bribes and sentenced to six years in prison, according to Hong Kong media on reports on February 7. Rui disappeared in July 2014 without explanation. The Central Propaganda Department ordered all media not to report on his disappearance. After Rui disappeared, several rumours about him circulated, including that he had an affair with the wife of a high-ranking official of the Central Government of China.

3)    Authorities plan another wave of internet control

On February 4, the China National Internet Information Office and other departments said they were planning to review all internet products to check for security vulnerabilities. The Office said it was concerned internet services could allow “illegal control, interference and interruption”. It said a public consultation would be arranged. Several days later, the Communist Party of China issued a guideline to all officials on how to use social media. In the guideline, it reminded all officials that WeChat is a public space and they should not disperse “negative energy”. Official news agency Xinhua said all information networks, radio, television, newspapers, books, lectures, forums, reports, seminars and other communication channels are forbidden to carry comments about central government policy or to undermine party unity. It is also forbidden to share government secrets, even in a one-to-one chat.

4) Activists detained after posting comments on social media

A)   Hai Wenming, an activist in Inner Mongolia, was arrested by local police after he posted comments about a land dispute in Tongliao City. Hai was detained on December 12, 2016, in Hohhot after he had posted details of a land dispute at his home village in Horchin, Tongliao. However, Radio Free Asia reported that Hai’s formal arrest legal document was issued on January 20, 2017.

B)   A netizen with the online nickname “Xinhai” was punished with administrative detention after posting a message about smog. According to Chengdu Commercial News report, Xinhai said the local city had issued a “red smog alert” on January 5 on a social media platform. Chengdu police accused the activist of “spreading rumours”.

C)   On January 30, Guangxi police reported that a man with the surname Jiang was detained after he posted a comment on social media that “insulted a police officer”. The report did not reveal the content of the “ insult”.

5) Online media outlet warned

The Paper, an online media outlet, received a reprimand from the Internet and Information Office in Beijing after it reported on a car accident near Tiananmen Square on February 3. The Office accused the outlet of illegally publishing news without prior approval. According to several laws and regulations, online media outlets are forbidden to publish news reports unless they have applied for a licence.

6) Prominent scholar’s social media account shut down

Mao Yushi, a liberal economist and reformer, and the website of the research institution he works with were completely banned by authorities without explanation. According to Radio Free Asia, Mao's Sina Weibo account was deleted and the website of the Tianze Institute of Economics was shut down. Mao is an outspoken economist who advocates economic reform and criticizes the Maoist movement.

IFJ Asia-Pacific