Press Freedom in China Bulletin MAY

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on June 8, 2018.

Posters of Chinese dissident Huang Qi, as a policeman walks past during a protest outside the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on December 27, 2017. Credit: Anthony WALLACE / AFP

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on June 8, 2018.

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In this bulletin:

1.    China’s televised confessions weaken press freedom: Safeguard Defenders

2.    China Youth Daily editorial removed

3.    Two journalists arrested by Inner Mongolia

4.    Huang Qi health deteriorates in custody

5.    Guangdong further tightened up online media

6.    Hong Kong press freedom index drops

7.    HK female journalist was sexually harassed 


1.    China’s televised confessions weaken press freedom: Safeguard Defenders

Safeguard Defenders launched a report on April 10, about televised confessions in China, and how the method of coercion is increasingly used by the police department. The report described how the confession ‘script’ was almost identical across confessions over the past three to four years, and in one case a detainee’s ‘confession’ filming took seven hours until police were satisfied with the footage. In a separate incident, a detainee was locked in a cage while a camera was pushed through metal bars to get the confession.

China Central Television (CCTV) remains the main vehicle for publishing and broadcasting the confessions. The report said that CCTV was not just the transmission of the confessions, but an active collaborator as in one incident a CCTV journalist read from a list of questions provided by police. The report also named Phoenix TV, Oriental Daily and the South China Morning Post and some Hong Kong-based media that were collaborating with police in the process.

Just 13 days after the release of the report, police in Chongqing aired a video during a press conference, where twin brothers made a confession of forging government documents. The brothers are alleged associates of fugitive Guo Wengui.

2.    China Youth Daily editorial removed

The China Youth Daily, an official newspaper of the Communist Youth League of China had its editorial on April 26 removed. The article referred to an ongoing incident with universities not disclosing data as per the Regulation on the Disclosure of Government Information Law of China. The article, which was removed by unknown people, said that several academics had said the public has a right to rely on the law to ensure all tertiary institutions disclose information related to scientific research and works. However many have found that their applications for the data have not been successful.

3.    Two journalists arrested in Inner Mongolia

Zou Guangxiang, who publishes his own financial news blog Guangxiang Caijiang was arrested from his home in Beijing by police from the Inner Mongolian city of Hohhot on March 28. According to several news reports, he was arrested for ‘spreading rumours’. The arrest came two days after he published an article about Pan Gang, the director of Yili Group, which said that Pan was suspected of running the business remotely from the US, and on his return to China, was taken into custody. On April 2, Liu Chengkun, a blogger and former journalist with government-owned Time Weekly, was arrested in Beijing by police from Hohhot. His arrest came after he published two fictional stories about a character called Mr Pan. In the stories which were originally published on Tianlu Caijing, the character bore a striking resemblance to Pan Gang. The stories were deleted from Tianlu Caijing but later reposted to Sina Finance. Following the arrests of the two journalists, on April 4, the Hohhot Police issued a statement that said six people have been arrested for their involvement in ‘manufacturing rumours’. No details were given on who were arrested, or how long they will be detained for.

4.    Huang Qi health deteriorates in custody

Huang Qi has been in police detention in Sichuan in China since December 2016. According to media reports, Huang’s mother and doctor, Pu Wenqing, he suffers from a number of medical conditions including hydrocephalus, brain atrophy, emphysema, renal cysts, and liver cysts. In a recent interview Pu said: “I am very worried about him”, having had several applications for medical parole not acknowledged. Huang Qi is the founder of 64 Tiananwang, who was detained for allegedly ‘illegally supplying state secrets overseas’. Huang’s trial is pending in the Mianyang Intermediate People’s Court, with no hearing date set.

5.    Guangdong further tightened up online media

On April 28, the Cyberspace Affairs Commission Bureau in Guangdong announced that more than six million online messages and 580,000 social media accounts have been either removed or shut down for allegedly ‘involving political endangered information and spreading rumours’ since January 2018. The Bureau also alleged that 180 online media contained ‘illegal’ information, but did not provide further details or evidence. Prior to the announcement, the Bureau had interrogated the management of Tencent on allegations of illegal messages been posted on Weibo. Tencent admitted they had shut down almost 100,000 accounts for violating relevant laws.

6.    Hong Kong press freedom index drops

Hong Kong’s Press Freedom Index is now at its lowest since records began in 2013. According to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) annual survey, the press freedom mark is now 47.1, down by 0.9 points since last year. On April 11, the HKJA released its annual Hong Kong Press Freedom Index, which is based on survey. The survey findings are numbered between 0 and 10, the lower the number, the more common occurrence it is. The findings included:

A) The responses from the general public showed that people perceive the local media to have doubts and hesitations when criticising the Central Government (3.8), compared to criticising business tycoons (4.4).

B) Responses from journalists indicated that there has been an increases in instances of supervisors and management editing or deleting articles and news reports.

C) In assessing the press freedom situation in Hong Kong, journalists said that the growing influence from the Central Government over the HKSAR government is one of the three biggest factors negatively impacting press freedom. This year 50% of journalists said the government influence was the biggest factor.

D) Over 90% of journalists said that the implementation of Basic Law Article 23 would negatively impact and damage press freedom in Hong Kong.

E) 63% of media respondents said that the increasing emphasis on the ‘one country two system’ ideology made them increasingly uncomfortable reporting dissenting voices.

7.    Journalist sexually harassed at sports event

During a Rugby Sevens event at the Hong Kong Stadium on April 8, a female reporter was sexually harassed by two members of the public during a live broadcast.The female i-Cable TV reporter was conducting a live broadcast, when two men stood on either side of her and kissed her. The journalist looked embarrassed and raised her arms to separate herself from the men. When asked by the media about the incident, she said the behaviour was unacceptable but ‘not much she could do’. The incident sparked widespread debate about sexual harassment, however Ronald Chiu Ying-chun, News executive director reportedly did not take issue with the incident; laughing it off, and said the firm would not pursue it. On April 11, an i-Cable TV spokesperson said that the human resources department has spoken with the reporter, who told them that she did not want to pursue the matter.

The Equal Opportunities Commission in Hong Kong said that the men’s behaviour constituted sexual harassment, and the chairperson, Chan Cheung-Ming, said that police could have a case if the journalist felt the behaviour was against her will. Chan said: “In other countries, if the person was kissed against his or her will, there could be consequences too.”

IFJ Asia-Pacific