On December 11, Bloomberg News announced that Haze Fan, a Chinese news assistant, was arrested by plainclothes officers in Beijing and charged with national security crimes. She appears to be the first news assistant to face national security charges since Zhao Yan, a former New York Times employee, in 2004. Fan’s arrest comes on the heels of Australian CGTN journalist Cheng Lei’s detention, and the expulsion of the majority of American and Australian foreign correspondents. At Bloomberg News, Reto Gregori and Madeleine Lim reported on their colleague’s arrest and the charges against her:
Fan was last in contact with one of her editors around 11:30 a.m. local time on Monday. Shortly after, she was seen being escorted from her apartment building by plain clothes security officials.
Fan, a Chinese citizen, began working for Bloomberg in 2017 and was previously with CNBC, CBS News, Al Jazeera and Thomson Reuters. Chinese nationals can only work as news assistants for foreign news bureaus in China and are not allowed to do independent reporting.
“Chinese citizen Ms. Fan has been detained by the Beijing National Security Bureau according to relevant Chinese law on suspicion of engaging in criminal activities that jeopardize national security. The case is currently under investigation. Ms. Fan’s legitimate rights have been fully ensured and her family has been notified,” the Chinese authorities said. [Source]
Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait speaks about the detention of Haze Fan, who works for the Bloomberg News bureau in Beijing, on suspicion of endangering national security https://t.co/8R7zPuuqQh pic.twitter.com/fYPJDbsp9F
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) December 11, 2020
FCCC Statement on the detention of Bloomberg News employee Haze Fan pic.twitter.com/OCc8V9zFqk
— Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (@fccchina) December 11, 2020
This chilling news will alarm all foreign media orgs in China. Chinese “news assistants” are the backbone and unsung heros of foreign media operations in the country. I use quotation marks because they are really stellar journalists who can’t be employed as such in China. https://t.co/V0jK7fQ5LS
— Laurent Thomet 卢鸿 (@LThometAFP) December 11, 2020
Plainclothes police took Haze Fan, a Bloomberg News editorial staffer, from her home Monday in Beijing. I’m so outraged, shocked, worried. I worked with Haze in the Beijing bureau in 2017. Whip-smart and tenacious. I hope so, so much she’s released soon:https://t.co/u5WLFB3pL5
— Christina Larson 可心 (@larsonchristina) December 11, 2020
The nature of the charges against Fan are unclear. Fan’s coverage was primarily business focused. At The Wall Street Journal, Chao Deng reported that Bloomberg executives do not believe she was arrested due to her work for the company:
“We are very concerned for her and have been actively speaking to Chinese authorities to better understand the situation,” a Bloomberg spokeswoman said in an email.
Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait, senior executive editor Madeleine Lim, and Greater China executive editor John Liu told China-based staff on a conference call that Chinese authorities told Bloomberg Ms. Fan’s detention wasn’t related to her work, according to people familiar with the matter. Staff were told they could continue with their work since the company believed Ms. Fan’s detention wasn’t work related, and that the company is trying its best to support Ms. Fan and her family, the people said.
or has bloomberg told staffers this is not related to her work? if so, how hard are they going to push? https://t.co/Lp2kQWOVRT
— Bill Bishop (@niubi) December 11, 2020
Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist who worked for CGTN, a state media company, was also charged with “criminal activities endangering national security” earlier this year. She is currently imprisoned in China. Two Australian journalists, Bill Birtles and Michael Smith, fled China after state security agents attempted to implicate them in her case.
Zhao Yan, the news assistant charged with national security crimes in 2004, joined The New York Times after he was fired from a position with a Chinese magazine due to his investigative reporting on a reservoir project. He was arrested after The Times correctly predicted Jiang Zemin’s retirement. At The New York Times, Vivian Wang and Chris Buckley examined Fan’s arrest’s impact on the international media community and its similarity to Zhao Yan’s:
In the mainland, the news of Ms. Fan’s detention sent ripples of disquiet among foreign news outlets, which have already been beleaguered by expulsions of journalists and tightening reporting restrictions.
[…] Few details were available on Friday about the accusations against Ms. Fan, the Bloomberg staffer. In the mainland, the sweeping set of potential national security charges includes illegally obtaining or sharing confidential government information, or engaging in political subversion.
[…] In 2004, Zhao Yan, a Chinese researcher for The New York Times’s Beijing bureau, was detained by state security officers. Mr. Zhao was initially accused of disclosing state secrets to The Times, linked to reporting on Communist Party leaders. He was later convicted on a lighter charge of fraud, and served three years in prison. [Source]
Working as a news assistant in a foreign bureau is an extremely dangerous job for Chinese nationals. In 2014, Zhang Miao, a news assistant for Die Zeit, was arrested in Beijing for her work covering the Hong Kong protest movement. The arrest of Zhang Miao sent tremors through the Chinese news assistant community, with one anonymous assistant saying, “Imagine African gazelles watching their mates cross a crocodile-invested river… Imagine their horror when they look back as one of their mates first flounces and wails, then gets drowned and devoured.” The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s 2019 Annual report listed the tactics Chinese officials use to intimidate news assistants, “threats to family members; home visits; phone calls from police,” and noted that 44% of foreign correspondents said their Chinese colleagues had undergone such treatment. There were approximately 200 people working as news assistants at the beginning of 2020.
This is true as a rule, but Bloomberg is relatively good about a) paying Chinese staff well and b) giving them (internal) credit. It's still an incredibly unsafe role and Western news orgs have an enormous duty of protection to the people who make most of their work possible. https://t.co/dwSuIbfsAT
— James Palmer (@BeijingPalmer) December 11, 2020
Bloomberg has come under criticism in the past for failing to defend its journalists against censure from the Chinese government. In 2014, the company failed to run an investigative report into the wealth of Xi Jinping’s family, and later forced one of the reporters and his wife to sign non-disclosure agreements forbidding them to speak about his work with the company.
Haze Fan’s arrest comes after a year of unrelenting assault on press freedom. Reporters Without Borders ranked China’s press freedom above above only North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Eritrea. As of 2019, there were 48 journalists imprisoned in China, according to the Committee To Protect Journalists. Citizen journalists who covered the Wuhan outbreak, such as Zhang Zhan and Chen Qiushi, have been arrested and disappeared for their reporting. Zhang is currently on a hunger strike in prison and Chinese authorities have reportedly restrained her and forcibly inserted a feeding tube into her stomach. This summer, China expelled foreign correspondents from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and other organizations, while also forcing news assistants assigned to the NYTs, the WSJ, CNN, and Time to resign. An American journalist interviewed about the impact of news assistant firings said, “the entire Chinese staff system is on the breaking point. Who will want to still work for foreign media?”
Most foreign news organisations simply cannot function in China without Chinese nationals doing journalism using titles like "researchers" or "news assistants." But not many consumers of China news even know they exist at all. https://t.co/UsVwPd9bHZ
— Chun Han Wong 王春翰 (@ByChunHan) March 19, 2020