China: Reporters Without Borders demands release of imprisoned media workers

Police presence at the November protests
If convicted, the journalists face prison sentences, some of them for life. (Source: IMAGO / ITAR-TASS)

The organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) demands the release of all journalists imprisoned in China. In no other country in the world are so many media professionals in prison for their work.

As RSF reports, four female Chinese journalists were arrested late last year in connection with protests in several Chinese cities. At the end of November, people in China had taken to the streets to demonstrate against the government’s strict zero-Covid policy. However, there had also been some open criticism of state and party leader Xi Jinping and the Communist Party. Many demonstrators had held up white sheets of paper in protest against censorship.

Several weeks after a gathering on Liangma Bridge in Beijing, freelance journalist Siqi Li and Renwu Magazine reporter Wang Xue were detained, according to RSF. They are reportedly still in custody.

Also detained in early December were Yang Liu, who works for the state-run Beijing News newspaper, and freelance journalist Qin Ziyi. Both were released on bail in late January.

RSF managing director Christian Mihr said, “The four female journalists were arrested simply for being at the scene of the protests. By doing so, the Chinese regime once again wants to deter those who want to continue reporting independently, even if it means contradicting the official narrative.” He said the regime must drop the “absurd charges” against the female reporters.

According to RSF, the journalists face charges such as disturbing public order or allegedly provoking “trouble.” The first offence is punishable by a life sentence.

RSF is demanding the release of the two female journalists still in prison and all other media workers. According to the organization, at least 100 journalists are currently imprisoned in China – more than in any other country (in German).

Violence against demonstrators

According to reports, police used force against demonstrators during the protests. Media workers were also attacked by the police, RSF criticized. During the protests in Shanghai in late November, a BBC journalist was also arrested and beaten. Police had detained him for several hours before he was released. “It is very worrying that one of our journalists was attacked in this way whilst carrying out his duties.” the BBC had said of the incident.

Demonstrators have also been arrested, in some cases weeks after the rallies. As the Washington Post reported in January, police allegedly used facial recognition to identify participants, among other things.

RSF criticizes the Communist Party for tightening its control over the media and media professionals since President Xi Jinping took office in March 2013. According to the report, the party’s propaganda ministry sends media outlets a daily list of topics they should highlight and others they are not allowed to report on under threat of sanctions.

Journalists are also banned from running personal blogs. In the past, they could still publish reports in their blogs that their editors had censored. Since 2019, media professionals have had to download an app and pass a loyalty test in order to obtain a press pass. The app also allows authorities to activate the phone’s microphone and modify files.

However, censorship in China generally affects all statements on the Internet. For example, content containing certain keywords is blocked. When reports written in Chinese about the protests appeared on Twitter in November, they were drowned in a flood of spam. They were advertisements for Chinese escort services, with the names of the cities where the protests had taken place. A former Twitter employee had told The Washington Post that accounts with ties to the Chinese government had used such tactics in the past.

On RSF’s press freedom rankings, China is ranked 175 out of 180 countries. Only states such as Iran, Eritrea and North Korea fare worse. (js)