Press Freedom in China Bulletin: JUNE

People hold candles in front of a backdrop showing Beijing's Tiananmen Square during a vigil in Hong Kong on June 4, 2018, to mark the 29th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. 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 July 8, 2018.To contribute news or information, email [email protected]. To visit the IFJ’s China Campaign page, go to the IFJ media violations in China map here. Follow the IFJ on Facebook here. Follow the IFJ on Twitter here.Download the simplified Chinese version here
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here                           In this bulletin:

1) 29years on, censorship on Tiananmen Massacre strong as ever

2) Liu Xia on house arrest, yet no media reports 

3) Chinese cameraman attacked

4) Uyghurs and Han detained after sharing ‘illicit’ online information

5) Embassies’ Weibo accounts censored

6) Private user data shared by Facebook Chinese companies

7) Hong Kong media suspected of self-censorship over MTR foul play

8) Hong Kong journalists attacked


1)    29years on, censorship on Tiananmen Massacre strong as ever

June 4marked the 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. As predicted, Mainland Authorities blocked all discussions and reporting on the anniversary in both virtual and physical realms. Just days before the anniversary, several media outlets reported that Yahoo searches yielded no matches relating to the massacre. Not a single Mainland media outlet reported on the anniversary. Yahoo’s Hong Kong office press officer denied any censorship, blaming a technical issue on the part of the service provider, Microsoft Bing. Microsoft is yet to provide explanation for the issue. However, one Mainland media outlet informed the IFJ that orders had been issued forbidding the mention of Hong Kong, including a prohibition issued for interviews with Hong Kong artists. No explanation was provided for the orders but the media outlet assumes the pending massacre anniversary was to blame. The media outlet also admitted that this year’s restrictions were far more stringent than past years with specific orders issued relating to what could and could not be mentioned.  In line with orders issued in past years, veteran journalist Gao Yu, and former political secretary, Bao Tong, received orders to ‘travel’ and were prohibited from accepting media interviews in the lead up to the massacre anniversary. Members of the Tiananmen Mothers received similar instructions although were still afforded the right to attend the cemetery, under official escort. 

2)    Liu Xia on house arrest, yet no media reports 

More than 80 internationally renowned writers, artists, former government officials and politicians issued a joint statement urging Chinese authorities to release Liu Xia, the widow of late Nobel Peace Laureate, Liu Xiaobo. Xia has been confined to house arrest for several years without being convicted of any crimes. The joint statement remains unreported by Mainland media. Furthermore, a phone call released by Xia’s friend, Liao Yiwu, of Xia sobbing and proclaiming that it would be ‘easier to die than live as dying in defiance would be far simpler than living on’ also received no media attention. The recording also reveals that for Xia, loving her husband had been the crime and despite his death, her sentence continues. Nobel Peace Laureate, Liu Xiaobo was a protester in the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre and subsequently sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for ‘subversion’ in 2009 after instigating “Charter 08”, a pro-democracy movement in December 2008.

3)    Chinese cameraman attacked

According to several Mainland media reports, a cameraman of Henan Television was attacked by three developer agents after journalists received a complaint made by their client on May 13, 2018. During the attack membrane in the cameraman’s ear was seriously injured and he was hospitalised for several days. The day after the attack, local police arrested three suspects and demanded they apologise to the victim. One of the suspects was fined 1400 yuan and held in administrative detention for 20 days according to municipal law. No reports mention the consequences for the remaining two suspects. The vice minister of the local Communist Propaganda Department issued a statement, emphasising that media workers have rights and such rights must be protected by law.

4)    Uyghurs and Han detained after sharing ‘illicit’ online information

On May 10, Global Times reported that 15 people in Xinjiang were accused of spreading extremist and illicit online content. The outlet cited an article published on the WeChat account of Xinjiang’s internet illegal information reporting centre as authority for the allegations. The article stated that one detained Han Chinese was punished after spreading a rumour that a riot was underway in Hotan City in April. Another individual was detained as he allegedly had ‘terroristic’ audio files on his cell phone. The report revealed that 15 people in total had been arrested including 6 Uyghurs, 7 Han Chinese and 2 persons of unidentified ethnicity. No information was provided as to when the arrests had been made.

5)    Embassies’ Weibo accounts censored

Reports by Globe and Mail on 28 May revealed that 51 incidents of censorship had been recorded in posts between November 2017 and January 2018 on the Weibo accounts of 10 embassies in Beijing. More than half of the censored content were posts from the US embassy. The report further claimed that the embassies have long been facing routine censorship when creating posts on social media.

6)    Private user data shared by Facebook Chinese companies

New York Times reported on June 5 that Facebook had shared data with at least four Chinese electronics companies namely Lenovo, Oppo, TCL and Huawei, a mega manufacturing company and one of the largest smart phone manufacturers in the world. According to the report, an agreement for Facebook to share the data had commenced in 2010. Although the agreement with Huawei will be terminated by the end of this week, the rest remain effective. Facebook claims the agreement allowed the companies to offer Facebook features on their smart phone devices such as address books, ‘like’ buttons and status updates. It also claims that it provided the information to Amazon, Apple, BlackBerry and Samsung. Huawei has gained strong support from the Chinese government for its activities. United States officials continue to investigate whether the activities of Huawei violated American trade controls.  

7)    Hong Kong media suspected of self-censorship over MTR foul play

Hong Kong media outlets have been accused of self-censorship for quite some time however, the latest incident relating to foul play on public subway MTR, confirms this accusation. Media outlets revealed that several steel bars had been cut in a new platform at a construction site in Hung Hom station for unknown reasons. MTR is a listed company of which the Hong Kong government is a key shareholder. Despite the fact that the MTR board did respond to media inquiries, of 19 Hong Kong newspapers, only 7 headlined the story today. The most current report of Hong Kong’s press freedom index released in April of this year saw Hong Kong receiving its lowest rate.

8)    Hong Kong journalists attacked in several incidents

Three Hong Kong journalists were attacked by Mainland police and unidentified persons whilst exercising their duties this May. On May 12, Chan Ho-Fai, of i-Cable Television, and Lui Tsz-Kin, from Commercial Radio, as well as a Japanese media outlet were attempting to cover memorial services for victims of the Sichuan earthquake in Dujiangyan City. However, the journalists were harassed and denied entry. Lui informed the IFJ that whilst filing a report back to Hong Kong, he was dragged from his rental car by three unknown assailants. One of them snatchedhis bag which contained all of his journalistic equipment as well as personal belonging. During the assault, they repeatedly asked Lui ‘Who are you? What have you done?’”. Chan recorded the incident on his smart phone but after obtaining the footage, he was immediately stopped by two men. They grabbed Chan’s arms and took him to the riverside, where they continuously punched and kicked his face and body. After several minutes of crying out for help, two officers from the local Propaganda Department arrived and halted the attack. Chan sustained visible injuries to his face, wrists and hands which he consequently sought medical treatment for. Although Lui did not sustain any injuries, all footage on a camerawas deleted.On 16 May, cameraman Chui Chun-Ming and journalist Lee Tung-yan from Hong Kong-based NOW Television attended the Beijing Lawyers Association in order to cover the hearing of human rights lawyer Xie Yanyi. After attempting to interview Xie outside the building they were stopped by uniformed police, who demanded to see their press accreditation. The police conducted the check and although Lee’s card was returned, they retained Chui’s, claiming that they needed to verify its authenticity. The pair then posed questions and Chui was manhandled by five non-uniformed police, pushed to the ground and handcuffed. He was then detained at the police station for 2 hours before he received any medical treatment. After being released, Chui was ordered to write an apology letter. His equipment was returned, however, his camera was destroyed and with it footage that revealed the injuries he had sustained to his left temple, hands and knees.  In a separate incident outside the Beijing Lawyers Association, journalists from RTHK, I-Cable Television and Television Broadcasting Ltd (TVB) were harassed and pushed by two people. One of them verbally harassed the journalists and accused them of taking his photo. When the journalist demanded to know he was, he claimed to be a citizen. The incident was witnessed by four uniformed police officers.HKJA stated “We condemn the actions of Beijing authorities. It is their duty to ensure that actions that supress and impede the work of journalists are stopped”. HKJA also demanded that the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, communicates these concerns with the Central Government in order to ensure the safety of journalist. The IFJ also condemned the acts, stating that: “A blatant disregard for the rights of the press and media is highlighted by the two incidents of the past week which saw journalists attacked. We stand in solidarity with the HKJA and support their demands of the Hong Kong Government to discuss the incidents, as well as the broader issue of journalist safety with the Chinese Government immediately”.IFJ[email protected]