International Women’s Day: Female journalists remain behind bars in China and Hong Kong

On International Women’s Day 2022, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) takes pause to acknowledge the courage of women journalists fighting for truth, justice and freedom of information in China and Hong Kong. The IFJ stands in solidarity with women journalists and media workers across the Asia Pacific and calls for greater action to address ongoing gender discrimination and inequality in the region.

Detained journalists Zhang Zhan, Haze Fan, Cheng Lei, Huang Xueqin, and Chan Pui-man. Credit: Various

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, the IFJ is profiling five female journalists and activists currently detained in China and Hong Kong. According to the IFJ’s annual Killed List 2021, at least nine female journalists are currently detained in China, however, due to a lack of access to information, the total number is inconclusive.

Zhang Zhan, the former Chinese lawyer who reported on the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan in 2019, was sentenced to four years in prison in December 2020 over “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang is reportedly suffering rapidly deteriorating health after enduring over one year of intermittent hunger strikes to protest her detention and imprisonment.

Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born Australian news presenter for CGTN, has been detained by the Chinese authorities since August 2020 over allegedly supplying state secrets overseas, while Haze Fan, a Chinese journalist working for Bloomberg's Beijing bureau, was detained on suspicion of endangering national security in December 2020.

Freelance journalist and leading campaigner for China’s #MeToo movement, Sophia Huang Xeuqin, was imprisoned in September 2021, shortly before she was supposed to travel from China to London for her postgraduate studies. She was reportedly captured by Chinese authorities alongside labour activist Wang Jianbing, accused of inciting subversion of state power. 

In Hong Kong, Chan Pui-man, publisher of the now defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, was placed under detention since July 2021 for allegedly conspiring to collude with foreign powers. Chan's case is part of the government's crackdown on independent journalism and press freedom in the city, further detailed in the IFJ’s latest reportwhich documents the detainment and jailing of journalists after inadvertently crossing invisible “red lines” set out under the new National Security Law.

Female journalists continue to be disproportionately targeted for their work across the Asia Pacific. On the eve of International Women’s Day, the IFJ launched the results of two surveys conducted in early 2022 to assess the work of trade unions and media organisations in tackling online abuse of women journalists, finding that 79 per cent of IFJ unions and associations said they were aware of cases of online abuse among their members. While 75 per cent of these organisations have made online abuse a priority issue, only 16 per cent have collective agreements covering online abuse.

A second survey found that only 20 per cent of media workers said their media employment adopted a protocol or mechanism that allows women journalists and media workers to report online abuse and be supported and protected in such cases.

The IFJ said: “Female journalists and media workers, both in the Asia Pacific region and globally, continue to suffer detainment, harassment, online abuse, and disproportionate targeting for their work. On International Women’s Day, and in light of the intensification of crackdowns on women journalists by Chinese authorities, the IFJ calls on governments, media organisations, unions and associations to do more to safeguard and end systemic discrimination towards women in the media, worldwide.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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