Press Freedom in China Bulletin: June

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on July 8, 2015.

To contribute news or information, email ifj@ifj-asia.org. To visit the IFJ’s China Campaign page, go to http://www.ifj.org/regions/asia-pacific/

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For the traditional Chinese version click here. 

In this bulletin:

1) IFJ, HKJA and ATJ submission on China National Security Law

2) New NGO Bill violates freedom of association in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>

3) Media access blocked on Yangtze River cruise accident

4) Tiananmen still taboo for media on June 4

5) Investigation into Politiburo member ignored by mainland media 

6) Editor of Chang Jiang Times suspended over <st1:place w:st="on">Silk Road</st1:place> coverage

7) Outspoken bloggers punished

8) FCCC study: journalists’ working conditions deteriorating

9) Al Jazeera crew threatened and assaulted by SWAT team

10) Propaganda strategy launched to tackle online ‘political rumours’

11) Pesticides struck off monitoring list in secret, unreported meeting

12) SCMP columnists have their publication space reduced

13) Pro-Hong Kong government columnist receives death threat 

14) Books confiscated in <st1:place w:st="on">Macau</st1:place> due to sensitive content 

1) IFJ, HKJA and ATJ submission on <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place> National Security Law

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliates the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), and the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) strongly oppose the draft  National Security Law of the People’s Republic of <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>. The IFJ, HKJA and ATJ have called for the Law Committee of the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>’s National People’s Congress to make amendments to the law, taking in their submissions and recommendations. The IFJ’s submission expresses strong concerns regarding the draft’s many vague definitions, as well as a lack of adequate protection of press freedom, freedom of expression and access to information. It calls for more precise definitions be included in a number of clauses and that clauses controlling cultural freedom and access to information be removed. The phase suggesting that the media should act as a mouth-piece for authorities should also be removed, the IFJ said. The joint submission “One country, two systems”, from the HKJA, IFJ and the Independent Commentators Association (ICA) , calls for enhanced  protection of press freedom in Hong Kong, including upholding  its existing governing system. The Macau Journalists Association (MJA), also expressed its concerns regarding the draft National Security Law, arguing that the Macau Government had enacted its own National Security under Article 23 of Macau Basic Law in 2009. The MJA is concerned that the draft law would also serve to stifle press freedom in Macau.

In a statement, the ATJ strongly opposed Article 11 of the draft law and stated that “China’s National Security Law is a domestic law of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) and therefore, the citizens of another state should not bear a ‘shared obligation’ to maintain the PRC’s “national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Taiwan</st1:country-region></st1:place>’s existing standards of news freedom and freedom of expression would be under considerable threat if the law was not amended. ATJ urged <st1:country-region w:st="on">Taiwan</st1:country-region>’s President, Ma Ying Jeou, and his administration to recognise its obligations under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights to protect the civil and political rights of <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Taiwan</st1:country-region></st1:place>’s residents, most notably the right of freedom of expression and news freedom expressed in Article 19.

All submissions are here and here.  

2) New NGO Bill violates freedom of association in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>

On May 5, the Standing Committee of National People’s Congress of China announced a new draft law aimed at monitoring overseas non-governmental organizations in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>. The IFJ expresses serious concern over the Overseas Non-Governmental Organizations Management Law (Second Reading Draft) and its apparent aim to control the development of civil society. The IFJ said: “We recognise that if the draft law is enacted in its current form, it clearly departs from the Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai’s report to the Human Rights Council in June 2013 that allows for the existence of unregistered associations.” In the report of Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai (A/HRC/23/39), undue restrictions to funding, including percentage limits, are a violation of the right to freedom of association as well as other human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It also states that both registered and unregistered associations should be able to seek, receive and use funding and other resources without prior authorisation or other undue impediments.

Submission is here.

3) Media access blocked to <st1:place w:st="on">Yangtze River</st1:place> cruise accident

Early on June 2, the Central Propaganda Department of China ordered that all media refrain from posting reporters to Jianli, the site of a major cruise accent. It also ordered that any coverage relating to the incident must use information released by state-controlled media outlets. It is understood that 456 passengers were on board the Oriental Star cruise when it sank due to poor weather conditions on the Yangtze River, Jianli, in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Hubei</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Province</st1:placetype></st1:place> on the night of June 1. The department also demanded that any reporters already at the scene were to leave immediately. Many local and non-local journalists complained that only state-owned media, for example Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television, were granted access to the scene.

Furthermore, when journalists attempted to visit survivors at the hospital in Jianli, they were stopped by security agents stationed outside the hospital on 24 hour duty.

Journalists in <st1:city w:st="on">Shanghai</st1:city> also complained about stopped by <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Shanghai</st1:place></st1:city> policemen when they attempted to report a protest organised by the victims’ families. A journalist at the scene told IFJ: “We were not allowed to enter into the area though it is still far away from the scene. You could see many police officers and military agents everything. All the major roads were blocked.” On 3 June, it was reported that the authorities allowed more than 40 journalists from around 30 International media outlets aboard the ship at the scene. However it failed to explain what the criterion was in selecting those specific media groups, and excluding others.

4) Tiananmen still taboo for media on June 4

At least two journalists from Hong Kong Radio Television and Hong Kong Commercial Radio were blocked by police when they attempted to enter into Tiananmen Square on June  4, the memorial day of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Journalists said their press cards were checked but that they were not allowed to enter. Online media was also heavily censored, with some bloggers reporting that they could not type any number related to the massacre such as 4, 6, 8 and 9 on any social media platform, including WeChat.

Additionally, the State Information Internet Office issued an order to all online media that they were to delete the Global Times commentary “Overseas forces attempt to incite post-80s, 90s generation,” posted on the May 26. On May 20, an open letter written by 11 Chinese students studying overseas was disseminated across social media. The open letter stated that students of the post 80s and post 90s generation were fooled by Mainland authorities and were unable to learn the “truth” about the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre until they moved abroad to study. On May 26, the Global Times editorial alleged that the students had been brainwashed by “Western forces.”

5) Investigation into Politiburo member ignored by mainland media

On May 28, the Financial Times reported that the US Securities and Exchange Commission had ordered JPMorgan to hand over any correspondence with Wang Qishan, one of the seven Politburo members ruling <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>. The order was in connection with an investigation on how the bank hired the children of high-ranking Chinese officials in order to rule business. The news report was immediately republished by all other media except mainland media. A mainland journalist said: “There is no need for any order or demand. All media personnel understand that there is no way to publish any negative reports relating to any leaders. This is the reality in China.”

6) Editor of Chang Jiang Times suspended over Silk Road coverage

On May 12, the executive editor-in-chief of the Chang Jiang Times, Zhao Shilong, was suspended from his duty. It was reported that Zhao was removed after writing an article on April 13, which the provincial State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television in Hubei province, felt disputed “One belt, one road”, also known as the “Belt and road initiative” development strategy and framework proposed by the Chinese authorities.

The provincial propaganda department also dismissed five senior management workers from the newspaper and it was reported that the newspaper would suspend its commentary page. The “Belt and Road Initiative” consists of two parts, the land-based segment titled “Silk Road Economic Belt” and an ocean-based segment titled “Maritime Silk Road”. It is widely-held belief that China promotes this strategy with the aim of assuming a more significant role in international affairs. The initiative was unveiled by Chinese President, Xi Jinping, in 2013.  

7) Outspoken bloggers punished

Several prominent outspoken Chinese bloggers were charged and punished in May after expressing their opinions online. On May 15, human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was formally indicted of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “causing a disturbance and provoking trouble” after being detained for more than one year. Pu was originally accused of two more charges, including “inciting separatism” and “illegally obtaining personal information”, but these were subsequently dropped by authorities. The charges against Pu came after he posted around 30 messages on Weibo, which were considered critical of government policy, especially in Xinjiang and Tibet. On May 20, Wu Gan, nicknamed “super butcher”, was punished with ten days of administrative detention after he protested in front of the Jiangxi’s high court building on May 18. Wu’s detainment sparked a public outcry. China Central Television reported the case twice in detail but its reports were accused of bias, of infringing Wu’s privacy and for reporting inaccuracies.  On May 28, it was reported that relatively unknown Chinese artist, Dai Jianyong, was detained by Shanghai police for three days after he posted depictions of contorted faces of the leader Xi Jinping online. He had previously created similar images of Hu Jintao, former President of China. 

8) FCCC study: journalists’ working conditions deteriorating

A survey conducted by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) on the working conditions of foreign correspondents in China, indicates a deteriorating trend. The FCCC released its Annual Working Conditions Report, which details the findings into the working conditions of its 200 correspondents working in more than 35 countries.

The report draws on comparisons between its 2013 findings, noting that conditions have not improved over the year. The report said 99 percent of correspondents did not think reporting conditions in China met international standards, with 80 percent saying conditions had either worsened or remained the same. Journalists as well as local staff continue to face harassment, interference, physical violence, intimidation, surveillance, censorship and interrogation. The survey also found that one quarter of correspondents had been prohibited or restricted from reporting from Xinjiang and Tibetan inhabited areas. However, it noted that journalists were also blocked from Inner Mongolia and the China-Myanmar border in 2014.

An emerging trend identified by the survey was that 22 percent of correspondents said they had observed signs of pressure on their editors at their headquarters. FCCC noted that its top concerns included iinterference, harassment and physical violence by authorities against foreign media in their reporting attempts by authorities to pre-empt and discourage coverage of sensitive subjects, intimidation and harassment of sources, restrictions on journalists’ movements in border and ethnic minority regions, staged press conferences, pressure directed at editors and managers at headquarters outside of China and surveillance and censorship.

9) Al Jazeera crew threatened/assaulted by SWAT team

On May 19, a television crew from Al Jazeera was harassed, threatened and assaulted by members of a SWAT team as it covered a large protest in Linshui county, Guang’an City, Sinchuan. Riot police attempted to stop the protest in its second day when crew were attacked. According to Adrian Brown, an Al Jazeera journalist, an officer forced his colleague Ling Pei to lay face down on the ground, while another colleague Paul Sutton was struck on the back and his camera and tripod confiscated. The team immediately fled the protest following the police attack. The camera was later returned, but all footage from the memory card was gone. Brown said four men armed with assault rifles and shotguns came running towards them, shouting orders and demanding they lie down on the ground.

10) Propaganda strategy launched to tackle online ‘political rumours’

The Public Security Bureau and the State Information Internet Office issued a number of separate orders in May aimed at competing with online campaigns. The Public Security Bureau said the new wave of policies would focus on four areas. These include political rumours, such as defamatory attacks aimed at senior leaders such as President Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong and any attacks of Communist Party propaganda strategy, the Communist Party system or its ideology. The State Information Internet Office said all ‘harmful’ information including publications from Hong Kong and Taiwan would be blocked for the whole of 2015 as a result.

11) Pesticides struck off monitoring list in secret, unreported meeting

On May 18, Hong Kong-based Cable Television revealed the Food and Health Bureau of Hong Kong had concealed information following a discussion with the Central Government of China. In April 2014, Cable Television discovered that the Food and Health Bureau secretly removed three pesticides from the pesticides monitoring list without informing the public. When the network demanded an explanation, the bureau replied it was “accepting a stakeholder’s suggestion.” When it demanded more information in accordance with the Code of Access to Information, the bureau refused to give any further comment until the media lodged a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman. According to the investigative report, the Food and Health Bureau had a confidential agreement with General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of China (GAQSIQ) not to reveal any information. There is currently no relevant law in Hong Kong which classifies secret information. The report also revealed that the “stakeholder” was GAQSIQ.

12) SCMP columnists have their publication space reduced

In mid-May, The South China Morning Post  issued letters to four prominent columnists Philip Bowring, Kevin Rafferty, Stephen Vines and Frank Ching, informing them that their regular columns would be reduced, without specifying the lengths. Stephen Vines told the IFJ that there was no explanation offered in his letter, but that he would now write on economic issues. He added that the column size and frequency had been frequently reduced in the past by the Hong Kong newspaper. The recent changes come after two pro-democracy columnists reported similar experiences back in September 2014, just before the commencement of the Occupy Movement. One columnist, Edward Chin, had his column removed.

13) Pro-Hong Kong government columnist receives death threat 

A pro-government columnist says her family were receiving death threats after she defended Hong Kong police in her column in May. The threats came after Chris Wat wrote an article defending the actions of police after they arrested a disabled man. Police were accused of not following due process and disregarding important evidence in favour of the disabled man. In Wat’s article, she was not critical of the police’s undue process and said that the suspect was only detained for 72 hours at most. If the suspect was detained by police in America, the suspect might have been mistakenly imprisoned for dozen of years until he was proven innocent. Wat drew strong criticism from disability groups and her home address was posted online by an unknown group, followed by a death threat against her and family. The suspect was arrested by Hong Kong police afterwards.

14) Books confiscated in Macau due to sensitive content 

On May 21, as many as 1000 books were confiscated by the Mainland authorities due to the content containing alleged ‘sensitive issues’. Sulu Sou Ka-Hou, one of the authors of the book “Withdraw, Do you still remember?” admitted they had planned to launch the new book on May 25 to commemorate the largest scale demonstration in Macau in 2014. Sulu said he was surprised by the confiscation and did not know why it had happened. In 2014, a series of protests and advocacy campaigns were held against a controversial bill which granted the Chief Executive of Macau and major senior government officials compensation when they left their positions. Additionally, the bill granted the Chief Executive of Macau immunity from prosecution during his tenure. After the protests, the Chief Executive of Macau, Chui Sai-On,  withdrew the bill.

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