China Named as World’s Leading Jailor of Journalists

According to an annual report from the Committee to Protect Journalists, China has overtaken Turkey to reclaim its place as the world’s leading jailor of journalists, with 48 in prison as of December 1. Rick Gladstone reports for The New York Times:

For the fourth consecutive year, at least 250 journalists were imprisoned around the world, the group said in a news release announcing the findings. It said President Xi Jinping of China, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt had shown “no sign of letting up on the critical media.”

[…] In China, at least 48 journalists are incarcerated, one more than in 2018, the group said, as Mr. Xi has “instituted ever tighter controls on the media.”

A crackdown in Xinjiang, where a million members of Muslim ethnic groups have been sent to internment camps, has led to the arrests of “dozens of journalists,” the group said, including some incarcerated for work they had done years ago. [Source]

Reuters has more on the report and the Chinese government’s response:

China’s total rose by one since last year. The report noted that “the number has steadily increased since President Xi Jinping consolidated political control of the country.”

[…] Asked about the report by at a regular briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said U.S.-based institutions had no credibility.

When asked about the number of journalists jailed in China, Hua said she could not confirm the figure, adding that China was a country where the rule of law prevailed and no one was above the law.

“You should feel lucky that you work in Beijing and not in Washington,” she told reporters. [Source]

As CPJ noted, journalists reporting in Xinjiang have been especially targeted by the government, even those working overseas. The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt wrote in an op-ed about Radio Free Asia’s U.S.-based Uyghur language reporters, whose families have been harassed and detained in Xinjiang for their relatives’ reporting on widespread internment camps in the region.

When the journalists began reporting on the mass detentions, the Communist Party began threatening and then rounding up their relatives. A half-dozen RFA journalists, Uighurs living in unsought exile, have spoken publicly about family members back home — often dozens of them — being taken away, with explicit references to the journalists’ work.

When hostage-taking did not deter the journalists, China began screening and blocking calls from the United States to Xinjiang, where the crimes are taking place. And when reporters found a way around that, China began employing artificial intelligence and voice recognition. Now, says reporter Shohret Hoshur, he can still call police desk sergeants and other potential sources — but his calls cut off after one minute. [Source]

Bitter Winter, a magazine which focuses on “religious liberty and human rights in China” reported that 45 of their correspondents had been detained in China over the past year, with 20 still in detention, 18 of those in Xinjiang.

One writer on CPJ’s list, Yang Hengjun, is an Australian citizen who was detained upon his return to China in January. He was recently reported to have been subjected to very harsh treatment in prison as he is investigated on charges of espionage. Ben Doherty reports for the Guardian:

Yang, an Australian citizen and globally influential pro-democracy political blogger, has been held by China’s Ministry of State Security since being detained in Guangzhou in January. After months held in secret detention, Yang’s conditions of incarceration had eased, but sources with knowledge of his case have told the Guardian his maltreatment was now growing worse.

For some of his incarceration, he had been subjected to a single interview each month during which he was not shackled, but the last 10 days had seen a return to daily interrogation sessions, sometimes commencing at midnight, while his wrists and ankles were held in chains.

Yang is granted one half-hour consular visit each month. His already limited contact from family has been cut off: letters are not being delivered and verbal messages are not being passed on. He has still not been allowed to communicate with his lawyers, after nearly 11 months in detention. [Source]

Also today, AP paid belated homage to a former correspondent, Y.C. Jao, who had been executed for espionage in 1951 by Mao Zedong’s government. From an AP report:

Jao’s passion for journalism led to his death. The new authorities ordered his execution in April 1951. They accused Jao of spying and of counterrevolutionary activities, all owing to his work for AP.

Sixty-eight years later, the AP on Wednesday recognized his sacrifice by installing Jao’s name on its memorial Wall of Honor for journalists who have fallen because of their work for the AP. Two of Jao’s children, Rao Jian and Rao Jiping, traveled from China to attend the ceremony. Also honored Wednesday was Mohamed Ben Khalifa, a freelance photographer and video journalist killed in Tripoli, Libya, in January covering fighting for the AP.

Jao’s story was almost lost to AP’s history. It came to light when a nephew, Jilong Rao, wrote to AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt in 2018, calling attention to Jao’s death. He enclosed a copy of an official document — a Chinese court’s rejection of the family’s 1983 request that Jao be rehabilitated posthumously on grounds that there was no evidence he ever engaged in espionage. [Source]


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