As part of the #30DaysPF campaign, we welcome the IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on May 8, and contributions are most welcome.
1) Restrictive orders attempt to control reporting on key cases
A) In keeping with Chinese Mainland authorities’ notorious reputation in controlling the media, on March 15 an order was issued following the death of the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, Xu Cahou, requesting media not to publish news of his death on the front page of any newspapers and disable all commentary functions for online news. According to the China Digital Times, the order also instructed all media to republish the news report from Xinhua, the state-owned media about the death of the leader from bladder cancer. Only one media outlet, Global Times (English), defied the order. Xu was promoted to vice chairman in 2005; however he was investigated in March 2013, after it was found that he was using his position to assist the promotion of others and accepting large bribes. In late 2014, the Military Procuratorate responsible for the investigation transferred the case. It was pending trial at the time of his death. Last year, Xu was expelled from the Communist Party and discharged from military service with his rank revoked.
B) In late March, a Uighur couple in Kashgar Special Economic Zone were jailed after the husband refused to shave his beard and his wife refused to remove her veil. According to the local government-controlled newspaper, the couple were charged with picking quarrels and provoking troubles as they refused to follow instruction from village cadres. Following the trial, the husband was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and the wife sentenced to two years. Following the sentencing, the story went viral with bloggers and social media sites hosting large amounts of commentary. However on March 30, Hong Kong-based newspaper Ming Paorepublished the news report. Mainland authorities then released a restrictive order to all Mainland media not to republish the news report.
C) On March 25, a fire killed at least six people in Karamay, a prefecture city in Xinjing. According to reports by Xinhua, the fire broke out in a residential area in the early morning. However, the local government only posted a message about the fire on the official weibo account after midday. It said that the fire was blamed by windy weather and warned people to “be careful of your works and deeds. Don’t disseminate the videos and photos [from the fire] with the friends and in social platform weibo.” In a brief statement, the local government did not produce any evidence supporting claims that the fire was an accident. All media merely republished the statement and no further reporting was undertaken.
D) On March 9, The New York Times published a translated article ‘Move Over Mao: Beloved ‘Papa Xi’ Awes China’. The article discussed how Xi’s name had been widely promoted by authorities, a trend which caught the eye of a number of veteran journalists with many suggesting the promotion of Xi was much more significant than that of Mao. In response, the Cyberspace Administration Office subsequently issued an order to all media to ‘block and deleted the article and relevant messages’.
E) In Guangzhou on March 6, nine people were killed after an attack by at least two knife-wielding assailants at a railway station. Authorities immediately demanded that all media refrain from putting the story on the front page. The order also demanded that media keep the news off their front page and not to repost any images. The order said ‘no similar negative news reports should be posted on the front page during the National Congress’, questioning the reasons behind the order.
2) Journalists removed from a CPPC meeting in Chengdu, Sichuan
ChangJiang Times Daily revealed that at least five journalists were removed by officers of the United Front Work Department of the Central Authority of China as they covered the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Representatives meeting on February 10. The journalists were not given a specific reason for their removal however it came after a clash between the senior Communist Party officials in Sichuan Province. After the story broke, news of the incident went viral online and led the local government to issue a denial statement on February 15.
3) Mainland journalists barred from reporting on Tengger Desert water pollution
Xiong ZiXi, a journalist of ChangJiang Times Daily was barred from reporting on water pollution in the Tenggar Desert in late March. The area is when the Ronghua Industry Group Co Ltd is currently completing an industrial project. According to reports, Xiong and a photographer were blocked by local policemen when they went to Liangzhou in WuWei. They were told they needed to get approval from the local propaganda department to report. The following day, Xiong and the photographer were again blocked by at least several security agents of the Ronghua Industry Group when they arrived at the Tengger Desert. One of the officials reportedly tried to grab a camera as the photographer was taking photos. Xiong was eventually taken away by security agents and his press card was checked by a local official from the propaganda department. Two police officers then interrogated Xiong for six hours, during which time the officers deleted all footage of the pollution from the phone and cameras.
4) Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) involved in cyber-attacks
Cyber-monitoring organisation GreatFire.org reported that between March 17 and March 31, its website and partner website GitHub came under a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. During the attack, the website received 2.6 billion visit requests an hour, which is 2,500 times more than normal levels. GreatFire.org said: “Based on the technical forensic evidence provided and the detailed research that was conducted on the GitHub attack, we can now confidently conclude that the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) is responsible for both of these attacks. Based on reports we’ve received, we believe the intent of this attack is to convince us to remove a specific class of content. We believe that the content refers to GreatFire.org’s GitHub page.” GitHub offered a free download of a VPN service on their webpage, prior to the attack. CAC has denied the allegation but a restricted order was delivered after the incident. According to China Digital Times, the State Council Information Office demanded all media cease independent reporting and republishing of non-Mainland news stories and commentaries until stories are published by state media. China’s ‘Great Fire Wall’ has a notorious reputation online. Although China has 642 million internet users, they must employ a number of different tactics such as installing Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to get around the firewall. Earlier this year on January 25, three VPN providers, Astrill, Strong VPN and Golden Frog reported that their services had been blocked by the ‘Great Fire Wall’.
5) Six months on from Occupy protests journalists continue to be harassed
A ) On March 29, Lam Sair-ping, a journalist from the Hong Kong-based, pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was asked for identification and his press card while covering a protest against parallel trading at Sheung Shui New Territories. When Lam asked why his identification was needed, the officer recorded his details and refused to answer. At the same protest, another two journalists were checked by police without reason. One of the journalists asked the officer for his identity card, but was refused. Lam told the IFJ: “I questioned police about abusing their power, but they didn’t answer me. I personally felt that the police attitude towards the media is much more hostile after the Occupy Movement protests last year. They treat the media as the protester.” A few days prior, a television crew received similar treatment by police at Sheung Shui. Police demanded to record the journalist’s personal details, including his residential address, yet no reason was given. The television crew have not reported the case, nor will they identify themselves due to fears of further harassment. According to Section 54 of the Police Force Ordinance of Hong Kong, police have the power to stop, detain and search only when the suspect acts in a suspicious manner or is suspected of committing a crime.
B) On April 1, the student-based online platform, Dash, said its Facebook account had been suspended for two days. Dash did not know why the account was suspended but it was suspected that it was related to Scholarism, one of the key organisations who supported the Occupy Movement in 2014. Hong Kong-based newspaper Ming Pao has reported on Facebook’s demand to all account holders to provide their real names if they wanted to continue to have access to their accounts, although this policy has not been officially announced by Facebook. In Mainland China, all bloggers have to use their real name to open a social media platform.
C) On March 31, Kubrick, a Hong Kong book store, cancelled an Occupy Movement photo exhibition after receiving anonymous threats and harassing calls.
D) Up Publications of Hong Kong, revealed that hundreds of books including Occupy Movement protest topics were banned by the distributor, Sino United Publishing (Holdings) Ltd (SUP) in December 2014. Sino is known to have a strong link with the Mainland Government. However, some media reported that some SUP book stores continued to carry the books which were published by other publishers but information about the anti-Occupy Movement was factually incorrect. According to several Hong Kong media reports, the publisher, Up was deeply suspicious the action taken by SUP was due to Occupy Movement protest has been labelled as an illegal protest by local and Mainland Government. On April 6, it was reported that two SUP bookstores filed a police complaint that their stock was “damaged” because a paper slip with words of “We Want Genuine Universal Suffrage” was stabled in some of the books.
6) Hong Kong’s first TV station to cease broadcasting
Hong Kong’s first television station, the cash-strapped Asia Television (ATV), will cease broadcasting in April 2016. This followed a decision on April 1, 2015, by the Executive Council of Hong Kong not to renew ATV’s broadcasting license, stating that it did not provide a detailed reformation proposal to the council. However, due to legal obligations the station will be given 12 months’ notice. A day prior to the announcement, media outlets misleadingly reported that the largest shareholders of ATV agreed to sell their shares to the HKTV chairman, Ricky Wong Wai- Kay. Ricky denied the report the following day and ATV admitted that it was a unilateral announcement. In 2011, ATV mistakenly reported the death of former Chinese President, Jiang Zemin. An investigation by the Communications Authority of Hong Kong found that major ATV shareholder and Mainland businessman, Wang Zheng, had heavily interfered with internal management which was against broadcasting regulations. In recent years, ATV has faced multiple legal issues including arrears of wages and license fees. ATV eventually rectified the arrears, but it has only been in recent months that management admitted the station’s financial challenges. A number of pro-democracy legislators and scholars have criticised the Hong Kong government for not developing a comprehensive plan to deal with the ATV aftermath.
7) Media movement restricted in Macau international casino
On March 15, a journalist with a daily newspaper was restrained by security at international casino MGM when he attempted to leave the premises following an official event. The journalist was at the resort covering an official ceremony with the chief executive of Macau . According to a statement by the Macau Journalists Association (MJA), the journalist followed the orders of the MGM, displaying his press card and remaining within the press zone. However, when the ceremony ended he left the press zone and followed the Chief Executive of Macau, Fernando Chui, and other senior government officials. The journalist was trying to interview them as the government officials went to leave the hotel but the journalist was blocked by security agents who proceeded to restrain him. A public relations officer told security to “Shut the door. Do not allow journalists to leave”. Following the incident, MGM issued an apology and said the security agents had the role of maintaining order within the complex. The journalist told the IFJ that: “There is no reason for the security agents to restrain the press movements following the ceremony.” He emphasized that ‘order’ was not disturbed and he was following the directions of security following the completion of the ceremony.
If you have information on a press freedom violation or matters relating to media freedom and journalists’ rights in China, contact staff at IFJ Asia-Pacific so that action can be taken. To contribute to this bulletin, email firstname.lastname@example.org