China Named World’s Leading Jailor of Journalists for Second Year; Vast Majority Charged with “Anti-state” Crimes

The Committee to Protect Journalists has released its annual global survey of imprisoned journalists, and found that for the second year in a row, China tops the list with 47 in prison. From the report introduction by Elana Beiser:

In China, many of the 47 prisoners are serving long sentences, or are jailed in the Xinjiang region without any charge disclosed. But as the coronavirus ravaged the city of Wuhan in Hubei province early this year, authorities arrested several journalists for coverage that threatened the official narrative of Beijing’s response. The three still jailed on December 1 include independent video journalist Zhang Zhan, who began posting reports from Wuhan on Twitter and YouTube in early February and was arrested on May 14. Her videos include interviews with local business owners and workers on the impact of COVID-19 and the government’s response to it.

Zhang Zhan was one of dozens in CPJ’s global census who relied heavily on social media – platforms to which journalists especially turn when all other outlets are heavily censored or controlled by the state. Her videos are likely still available to a global audience because they are hosted by companies outside China. But CPJ found that similar content produced by others who were later jailed had been taken down for reasons that were not clear, hindering research and underscoring longstanding concerns about transparency by global tech giants like Google, Twitter, and Facebook. [Source]

Lawyer-turned-citizen-journalist Zhang Zhan is currently hunger striking in prison, after being indicted on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” In a recent interview with CBS News, her lawyer said that she “may not survive”:

“She’s unwell and refused to stop hunger strikes,” her lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, told CBS News, explaining that Zhang is restrained 24 hours a day with a belt around her waist and both hands tied to prevent her from pulling out a feeding tube.

Zhang’s lawyer, who visited her for the second time this Tuesday, says she’s experiencing headaches, dizziness and stomach and mouth pain due to the insertion of the gastric tube for forced feeding, and that Zhang told him that, “every day is torture.”

Zhang is among several citizen journalists whose work offered some of the only glimpses to the outside world of what was going on in Wuhan in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic — and who were subsequently detained by the Chinese government. [Source]

Zhang is one of several citizen journalists who were detained for reporting independently from Wuhan during the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown there. Chen Qiushi disappeared in February and is reportedly under “state supervision” at his family’s house in Qingdao, but few details are known about his current whereabouts or situation.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has confirmed the detention of Haze Fan, a Chinese citizen working for Bloomberg News as a news assistant, on suspicion of endangering national security. AP reports on a Foreign Ministry press briefing Monday:

“As far as I know, Chinese national Fan is suspected of engaging in criminal activities that endanger the national security of China, and has recently been taken under compulsory measures by the Beijing National Security Bureau according to law,” [Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin] told reporters at a daily briefing.

“The case is currently under investigation in accordance with law,” Wang said. [Source]

The European Union issued a statement calling on Chinese authorities to release Fan and other journalists who have been detained this year. From the statement:

We expect the Chinese authorities to grant [Fan] medical assistance if needed, prompt access to a lawyer of her choice, and contacts with her family.

Other Chinese journalists or citizens have disappeared this year, or been detained or harassed, after engaging in reporting. These include among others Zhang Zhan, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, who reported on the COVID-19 outbreak.

All those arrested and detained in connection with their reporting activity should be immediately released. [Source]

The Chinese government responded by stating that Fan’s detention was China’s internal affair. From BBC:

[..T]he Chinese Embassy in the EU responded on Sunday, saying Ms Fan was “suspected of engaging in criminal activities that endanger China’s national security and was recently taken into compulsory measures by the Beijing State Security Bureau in accordance with the law”.

On its official WeChat account, it added that the case is currently being investigated in accordance with the law and that Ms Fan’s rights are fully ensured. This is “entirely an internal affair of China, and no other country or organization has the right to interfere”. [Source]

For the first time, the seven Foreign Correspondents’ Clubs and Associations in Asia—in Japan, Hong Kong, Jakarta, the Philippines, South Asia, Taiwan, and Thailand—joined their counterpart in China to issue a joint statement on Fan’s detention, writing: “The FCCs stand by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China in its efforts to seek an explanation on why the Chinese authorities detained Fan.”

The government has so far offered no explanation for Fan’s detention or for the serious potential charges. National security crimes in China are notoriously vague and nebulous, and are often used to crack down on dissent or unsanctioned reporting. In recent years, a series of new sweeping laws have given “greater powers to the authorities to silence dissent, censor information and harass and prosecute human rights defenders,” according to Amnesty International. According to CPJ’s annual survey, 34 of the 47 journalists in prison in China are charged with “anti-state” crimes, which would encompass most national security charges. On Twitter, legal scholar Jerome Cohen recalled the case of Zhao Yan, a New York Times assistant who was similarly charged with national security crimes in 2004, but ended up serving three years on fraud charges:


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