Press Freedom in China Bulletin: JULY

Protesters demand the release of Liu Xiaobo. Credit: Richard A Brooks/AFP.jpg

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1) China still refusing to allow Liu Xiaobo to be transferred to an overseas hospital

2) Hong Kong Police heavily escalated the security check when Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong

3) Authorities grip tightens on Mainland media

4) Online media blocked

5) Independent animation film Have A Nice Day forced to withdraw from the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France

6) Hong Kong largest free-to-air station Television Broadcasts (TVB) suspected of self-censorship

7) Tianwang volunteer accused of ‘illegally providing state secret to overseas’

8) Next Media Group plans to reduce responsibilities

9) HKJA annual report “Two Systems Under Siege”

1) China still refusing to allow Liu Xiaobo to be transferred to an overseas hospital

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders are writing an Open Letter to China’s President Xi Jinping to grant Liu Xiaobo, the first Chinese Nobel Peace Laureate in 2010, to accept overseas medical treatment immediately under humanitarian ground on 5 July after Liu was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer on May 23, 2017.  but the information was not released until June 26, 2017. As Liu is suffering from late-stage terminal cancer, , many people are calling President Xi to allow Liu to be transferred to an overseas hospital to undergo proper medical treatment. However, no direct response was given byauthorities except for the spokesperson of Foreign Ministry who kept saying Liu’s case was an “internal affair”. Regarding Liu’s health condition, no direct information was given by the First Hospital of China Medical University in Shenyang until a series of ‘worsening situation’ reports were reported on July 6 by Hong Kong and overseas media. On July 6onwards, the hospital started to release Liu’s health information including hospital released the video and the conversation between Mainland and overseas experts after seeing Liu. However it was reviewed that the Chinese side was not released the full version of the conversation and the video was an edited version.

On the other hand, the IFJ was informed that a number of Chinese dissidents received various kind of threats, harassment and detention. They include Gao Yu, a veteran independent journalist, who was warned to stop posting her opinion about Liu Xiaobo on Twitter -an overseas social media platform -without being given any reason by Chinese authorities.. Bao Tong, the former top aide to the late ousted Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, was warned to stop accepting media interviews and to stop expressing his opinion about Liu.Zhou Duo once joined Liu Xiaobo in forming a hunger strike  at Tiananmen Square during the 1989 Student led Democratic Movement. He was taken away by security agents with his wife after he expressed his concern about Liu’s health condition.Wu Mingliang, a poet with the pen name of Lang Zi, was punished for 15 days of administrative detention. Dissidents believed he was punished due to his co-signing of an open letterto urge authorities to grant Liu Xiaobo overseas medical treatment, as well as for his acceptance of an interview from Hong Kong based Hong Kong Cable Television. In addition, three security agents installed surveillance camera outside Wu’s apartment. 

2) Hong Kong Police heavily escalated the security check when Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong

From the 29th of June until the 1st of July, 2017, the President of China, Xi Jinping, visited Hong Kong and attended the inauguration of the new cabinet of the Hong Kong Government. Before he arrived, Hong Kong police gradually escalated security checks. All media had to apply for a press accreditation and submitted their personal data for approval if they wanted to report the ceremony and the official events. Many journalists complained the data they had to submit was unnecessary (e.g. their address) as they did not know how the data was going to be used. Although the data collected was on behalf of Home Affairs Bureau, it also mentioned that they will share the information with the office that was in charge of the ceremony. The IFJ was told that the Chinese Liaison Office, Central Government agent in Hong Kong, was one of the parties in the office. On June 30, Xi visited the Chinese Liberation Army in Hong Kong. Mediaedia was informed that they could not bring a lot of equipment, including pens due to security reasons.

While Xi was conducting his official events indoors, many protests were organised outdoors during his three day trip to Hong Kong. On June 30, a few  foreign journalists were harassed and verbally humiliated by people with a strong sense of pro-establishment. The Hong Kong Government and the office of the ceremony during Xi’s three day trip, did not approve a single online-only media to have a press accreditation to report all official events. Parallel to Xi’s visiting Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, the new Chief Executive of Hong Kong broke her promise to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) during the election. On June 21, July 3 and 6,, Lam either invited all traditional media or selected some traditional media to have press gatherings and press conferences to introduce her policy and her new cabinets but not a single online-only media was invited . HKJA issued a series of letters to the Government to express their discontent on behalf of a number of online-only media.        

Since the Hong Kong police escalated the security check, many political groups and dissidents complained that they were hardly to express their political views. According to several Hong Kong media reports, a group of unidentified people were trying to harass a few pro-democratic political leaders and supporters. Avery Ng, Chairman of League of Social Democrats, was assaulted by police when he was already under control by them in a police car. HK01 -an online media outlet - reported that Avery Ng was taken away by police when he arrived at the starting point of the rally in Wan Chai on July 1. He was immediately taken away by police without knowing the reason. The journalist was intervened and stopped photo taking by a policemen when the journalist documented how Avery Ng was beaten up by police in a police car.

3) Authorities grip tightens on Mainland media

A) The Chinese Communist Central Propaganda Department ordered all media in China to remove and forbid the reporting of the Chairman of Anbang Insurance Group as being detained for further investigation.

According to several media reports, Wu Xiaohui, the Chairman of Anbang Insurance Group, is being detained and is under investigation by China Insurance Regulatory Commission. Caijing, a Mainland-based media, was the first media in China to report Wu was under detention on June 13, 2017. A number of other Mainland media then republished the report, however, all reports were removed at night without knowing the reason. According to several media messages, all articles were removed as  they had received an order from the Central Propaganda Department, one of the controlling media parties in Mainland China. As usual Central Propaganda Department would not make a statement to clarify or confirm any restrictive order, however the Anbang Insurance Group issued an official statement on June 13 that said Wu is “temporarily unable to fulfil his role for personal reasons” which indirectly confirmed the earlier media reports.

B) On June 20, 2017, the International Table Tennis Federation of China (ITTFC)  removed Liu Guoliang as the head coach of the China National Table Tennis Team and turn into the Vice-Chairperson of the Federation. Mainland media reported the new arrangement without reporting that Liu has gained massive respect from the team members and led the team to win several international awards. In the following days, several messages from social media disclosed that journalists were demanded not to ask any questions about the move by the relevant authority following the new announcement. Other than the media being demanded ‘not to ask’, members of the National Team were also demanded to keep ‘silence’. The relevant online messages were then removed from all social media platforms. 

C) The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) reported that around 100 Inner Mongolian herders were blocked and assaulted by riot police on June 18. A number of herders were injured and detained by police afterwards. The SMHRIC said riot police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of protesters. They protested due to the herders being deprived of their rights to use the lake water to graze their land by fishermen. No local or national Chinese media reported the conflict.

4) Online media blocked

A) Three popular websites that offer video and audio streaming services were shut down by the State Administrative Press Publication Radio Film and Television (SAPPRFT) on June 22, 2017. According to the report of Xinhua, the SAPPRFT shut down the websites with the reason of ‘many politically-related programs were aired’. Three of the portals include Sina Weibo, news portal and AcFun - an online video site that provides real-time comments from viewers on the screen.

B) The National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications said that they launched a data base which can be used to curb the sharing of pornography on the internet. Xinhua reported on June 22 that nine internet companies including Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are sharing the database currently. Based on the past number of years, the office only mentioned ‘pornography’ but information deemed as political is also being censored.

5) Independent animation film Have A Nice Day forced to withdraw from the the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France

On 14 June, BBC reported that a Chinese film Have a Nice Day was forced to pull out from the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France. The producers reportedly did not apply for Chinese official approval before they submitted their film directly to the festival. Yang Cheng, the producer of the film, said “it has nothing to do with politics” but many dissidents believed they had received pressure from the Government. Lately, the Government of China has been constraining the freedom of the film industry to show its films on an international platform. Cheng said the film was about human desire and fate.

6) Hong Kong largest free-to-air television station Television Broadcasts (TVB) suspected of self-censorship 

Hong Kong Television Broadcast, TVB, the largest free-to-air television station in Hong Kong, was suspected of self-censorship. On June 30, the Programme Staff Union of Radio Television of Hong Kong (RTHKU) issued a statement disclosing that the popular political satire programme Headliner was suddenly removed from the original programme schedule by TVB. The spokesperson of RTHK reportedly saidthat TVB informed RTHK at the very last minute with the reason that ‘a breaking news’ had to be reported during the same period of time. However the RTHKU and RTHK found out the so-called reason was not genuine because the piece of so-called ‘breaking news’ had already been broadcasted by all other television stations at an earlier time. At the same time, TVB refused to re-schedule Headliner right after the news bulletin until RTHK pushed forward. Eventually, Headliner was re-scheduled to another channel. Liu Xiaobo’s illness on the day when Xi Jinping is visiting Hong Kong. TVB rebuked and alleged RTHK already has its television channel so they should used their own instead of following the out-dated policy that another television channel has to air its programme. Under the current policy, television stations have to fulfil all clauses stated in the license, which stated that a free-to-air television has a duty to allocate a number of hours to broadcast the public broadcasting programme otherwise they could not apply for a license. The monitoring authority has already received around 200 complaints against TVB since June 30, 2017.

7) Tianwang volunteer accused of ‘illegally providing state secrets overseas’

On June 28, Radio Free Asia reported that Yang Xiuqiong, a volunteer of the 64 Tianwang website, was charged with ‘illegally providing state secrets overseas” by police in Mianyang, Sichuan Province on June 23. Dissidents believed Yang was arrested and detained by police due to her disclosing of information about Huang Qi, the founder and administrator of Tianwang. Yang was one of the victims in the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008. She lodged a number of complaints against the local government for ignoring her request to receive subsidies to rebuild her house in Mianyang City. 

8) Next Media Group plans to reduce responsibilities

The Next Media Group is unilaterally planning to outsource some of its work without consulting the indoor unions of Hong Kong and Taiwan. On June 23, 2017, the Next Media Trade Union (Hong Kong Office), issued a regretful statement after a meeting with Cheung Kim Hung, Chief Executive Officer of Publishing and Publisher of Apple Daily, Next Digital Limited, which said the Group used “encouragement staffs to become their own boss” as an excuse in order to layoff some staff and signed an independent contractor contract with them when they become a freelance worker for the company.

The Union said the company used this method to evade its responsibility. It was reported that around a dozen staff in the Design Department have already agreed to become ‘freelance workers’ but continued to provide service to the company. On June 29, two veteran finance reporters were terminated without knowing a reason. On July 5, 150 staff at the Next Media Hong Kong office organised a 15 minute silent standing protest in front of the office to express their discontent. Lam Wai-Chung, the spokesperson of the union urged the company to stop ‘secret negotiation’. The union said the plan may have affected 30 to 50 staff members in the design department. Lam said journalists are “merely labour supply or figures on their account of expenses’ but “as dignified staff members of this company” they spoke up and asked the company to stop  gradually destroying its departments. The union also said they will take further action if the company insists on the current plan.

9) HKJA annual report “Two Systems Under Siege”

In July, the new annual report of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), our affiliate,  said that Beijing is increasingly encroaching on the city’s autonomy in an all-encompassing manner. Chris Yeung, the Chairperson of HKJA, said “We must stay vigilant to safeguard our rights.” The 2017 Annual Report, titled “Two Systems Under Siege” includes cited examples to show how the city’s autonomy is at risk. One of the examples it cited was when Zhang Dejiang carried out his hard-line stance speech “One Country Two Systems”. Zhang in the speech said, “one country” over “two systems”, and denounced any discussion of self-determination or independence for Hong Kong. He called on the special administrative region to move forward with national security legislation, which the HKJA worried could have a serious chilling effect on media freedom. The report also said some Hong Kong media was being used by the Central authority to disperse the voices of the Central Government, which the IFJ had already reported in China Press Freedom Annual Report 2017. 

IFJ Asia-Pacific