Press Freedom in China Bulletin: OCTOBER

Preparations for the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China continue across Beijing. Credit: AFP/STR

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on November 8, 2017.

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1.    Government continues with new restrictions as National Congress nears

2.    China, HK and Taiwan rank in top 30 for global competitiveness index

3.    HK Free Press staff targeted with threatening letters

4.    “There is no room for any discussion on the Independence of HK” – Carrie Lam

5.    HK online media granted access to government press conferences

6.    First press freedom in Macau report released

7.    Taiwan journalists’ records illegally accessed



1.    Government continues with new restrictions as National Congress nears

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is scheduled for October 18, in Beijing. The government crackdown has intensified in the lead up, with government agencies, including the Police, the Transport Department, as well as local governments from ‘sensitive areas’, including Xinjiang and Tibet, issuing restrictive orders and directives.

The IFJ has documented the crackdown across China:

a.    The Central Propaganda Department issued a restrictive order for all media workers in preparation for the 19th National Congress. The order demands the following for all media workers:

                                          i.    Do not disseminate rumours

                                         ii.    All published reports regarding the National Congress must be republications from Xinhua news agency (state-owned media)

                                        iii.    No changes to headlines are allowed

                                       iv.    Any expert or scholar has to seek approval from their workplace management or the Central Propaganda Department before accepting media interviews

b.    The Beijing Communist Party secretary demanded that all officers give ‘120% effort’ to ensure the capital’s safety and stability in the lead up to and during the National Congress. The secretary also said that all civilians should act as a ‘watchdog’, and report any rallies or demonstrations to local authorities. In addition, he said that ‘no political or endangered information is allowed to be disseminated’ online.

c.    The Tibetan government was warned not to accept any foreign applications for entry permits and that all foreign visitors must leave the region before October 17, 2017.

d.    Xinjiang government reportedly organised a ‘Surrender Assembly’ for local “criminals” to encourage people to provide information to authorities when they are aware of any crimes. No government official is allowed to release the relevant information to any third parties.

e.    A movie, about retired soldiers defending their rights, was forced to delay its premier until after the Congress.

f.     Zhu Shengwu, a Shangdong human rights lawyer, had his practicing license cancelled by the local judiciary on the basis that he repeatedly endangered National Security and expressed opinions against the legal system online.

g.    Baidu, a popular online search engine, announced that they were setting up an ‘anti-rumour platform’. Following on from similar actions by other popular websites

h.     Sina, the owner of Weibo, China’s version of twitter, ordered all users to restrain from sharing their opinions on the platform, unless they had obtained written approval from Sina. The order came after Sina user ownership changes, which means that Sina is the owner of posts, not the user.

i.      WhatsApp, a popular encrypted messaging app, has faced continuous partial disruption since July. Nadim Kobeissi, a cryptography expert, noted that the Great Firewall had been selectively targeting WhatsApp’s functions over the past 3 months.

j.      Ding Linjgie and Wu Jijuan, from Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch and Rose China,  respectively, reportedly disappeared, according to Radio Free Asia. The reason for the disappearance remains unclear. Ding disappeared in Shangdong and Wu disappeared in Hubei. Friends believe that they disappeared because their work and the upcoming National Congress.

k.    Several negative reviews of A Taxi Driver, a Korean film about Korea’s democratic uprising in 1980, were deleted, after they linked the film with the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

l.      According to a Voice of America report, Chen Shouli from Henan, was detained for five days after he posted a message online. Some reports claim that the message mocked a senior Communist Party official, who is responsible for national security. Two other Shangdong netiziens were punished with five days of administrative detention after they claimed to have blown up Tinanamen Square online.

m.   Three popular TV talk shows on Phoenix TV were taken off the air without reason. Many believe that the TV station had been pressured by the government. Phoenix TV has a strong and long-standing working relationship with the authorities, but the Cyberspace Administration Office accused them of violating cyber security laws over the last couple of months. No evidence of the violations was provided.

n.    According to Radio Free Asia, at least 50 people in Xinjiang were arrested by local police after they watched a boxing match online. Police alleged that the match was shared via WeChat. However, locals believe the reason they were arrested is because the boxer was from Xinjiang, before he emigrated.

2.    China, HK and Taiwan rank in top 30 for global competitiveness index

The World Economic Forum published the annual Global Competitiveness Index 2017-18 on September 28. Overall Hong Kong ranks sixth out of 137 countries, however rankings in some areas dropped from previous years, including judiciary independence under the item of undue influence (13/137); transparency in policy making (6/137) and organised crime (26/137). Under female participation in the workforce with a ratio of 0.79 (75/137); and under cooperation in labour-employer relations 10 out of 137 countries. 

Overall China was ranked 27th out of 137 countries. Judicial independence ranked 46/137; transparency in policy making (45/137); organised crime (79/137); female participation in the workforce with a ratio of 0.83 (59/137); and under cooperation in labour-employer relations (50/137).

Taiwan was ranked 15th out of 137 countries, however some rankings were lower. Judicial independence ranked 48/137; transparency in policy making (22/137); organised crime (49/137); under female participation in the workforce with a ratio of 0.75 (86/137); and under cooperation in labour-employer relations (17/137).

3.    HK Free Press targeted with threatening letters

Tom Grundy, the editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), an online-only English media outlet, spoke with the IFJ and HKJA about a series of letters that he and some of his staff had received over the past month. Each letter arrived on Tuesday, some sent to the HKFP office, while one was sent to the Hong Kong of guest editor Tim Hamlett, and the latest was sent to the United Kingdom home of Tom Grundy’s family. The letters included a list of 50 ‘foreigners’ that ‘have been deemed guilty of spreading hatred and dividing Hong Kong, China society’. The ‘foreigners’ include Tom, Tim Hamlett, as well as other journalists, scholars and media workers. Under the list of names, the letters says that ‘the punishment shall be mandated as of January 2018. Expulsion from Chinese Territory. A list will be sent to immigration staff’. In addition to threats made to Tom and Tim, a letter was also sent to all local staff, telling them ‘not to follow the brainwashing through the distortions by foreigners of your mind’… ‘You do not have to continue writing negative and biased stories about Hong Kong and China. You have Chinese blood running through your veins and heart’.

4.    “There is no room for any discussion on the Independence of HK” – Carrie Lam

With the start of the new school year in late September, the discussion of Hong Kong’s independence came to light again, after a banner with ‘Hong Kong Independence’ was raised at several HK universities. The banner was raised as a joint statement from several HK universities was released which said, “We condemn its recent abuses. Freedom of Expression is not absolute, and like all freedom it comes with responsibilities.”

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, a HK pro-Beijing lawmaker, publically said ‘kill with no mercy’, with reference to anyone who supports Hong Kong independence. He went on the blame the ‘instigator’ of the Umbrella Movement, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, a HK University law scholar, and press the University to sack him.Ho’s public speech then started a war of words between pro-Government and democratic groups.

Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong issued a statement saying, “there is no room for any discussion on the independence of Hong Kong because this breaches the ‘one country, two systems’ principle that underlies the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong”. During the public discussion, Cheung Chan-Fai, a former philosophy professor at China University disclosed that he was warned ‘not to discuss sensitive subjects in front of Mainland scholars’ by university staff. He denied disclosing the names of the staff who mentioned this and when it happened.

5.    HK online media granted access to government press conferences

On September 19, the Information Services Department (ISD) of Hong Kong announced that eligible online media outlets would now be allowed to attend government press conferences and media events. The changes to the rules come after the long-running campaign by the Hong Kong Journalists Association and local media. However, there are still conditions with online media outlets must face before they can attend. They must register under the Registration of Local Newspaper Ordinance, provide proof of regular online news reports, update websites at least five days a week and have at least two staff, an editor and a reporter. The ISD emphasised that any misconduct such as the use of foul language, causing disruptions or protests are forbidden and will lead to outlets been suspended.

The IFJ has learned that the change in rules could ease the tensions that the HK government is facing, as court hearings against the unequal treatment of media outlets continue and following the recommendation from the Ombudsman Office. Although few traditional media outlets strongly disagreed with the new arrangement, HKJA and several online outlets welcome the news and have begun applying for accreditation.

6.    First press freedom in Macau report released

The Macau Portuguese and English Press Association (AIPIM) said that a constraints continue to hamper access to information in Macau, findings from a survey they conducted between July and November 2016. Out of 44 respondents, three quarters said that they have experienced some form of restraint in reporting on political, economic, social, cultural or institutional nature. Such situations are particularly common around the judiciary, executive and legislative branches.

Respondents also pointed to a number of flaws and inadequacies in the spokesperson system with the Government. The AIPIM said: “Without facilitated access to sources of information, the freedom of the press can be brought into question.” This is the first press freedom and access to information report from Macau’s Portuguese and English speaking media workers.

7.    Taiwan journalists’ records illegally accessed

According to an announcement by Control Yuan, the monitoring body of the Taiwan Government on September 13, an officer of the Department of Government Employee Ethics (EED), under supervision of the Ministry of Justice, had illegal access a journalist’s communication records. The officer was investigating the Taiwan Dome Complex case when the breach was made. The Control Yuan said that as “when disciplinary officers could not distinguish that nature of their power, administrative investigative powers should always be exercised in accordance with law and principle, and not overstep administrative power”. However the Control Yuan has learnt that the officer used several different tools to ‘investigate’ and access the journalist’s records. The Control Yuan said that “the act has abused their power and infringed on the people’s rights and jeopardised press freedom”.


The Control Yuan has demanded that the Ministry of Justice rectify the breach, and clarify the limits of administrative power, in order to protect the people’s rights.

IFJ Asia-Pacific

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