Earlier this week, we saw Beijing police taking none too kindly to foreign journalists covering Pu Zhijiang‘s trial, so it is no surprise that a recent report published by US-based press freedom group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says China jailed more journalists in 2015 than any other country in the world, currently holding 25% of all journalists held behind bars globally.
CPJ calculated that there are currently 199 journalists detained around the world, and that 49 of them are within China, where it is only getting more difficult to be a journalist in recent years.
According to CPJ, Xi’s anti-corruption campaign and the slowdown of the economy had a role in the increased number of imprisoned Chinese journalists, since reporting on financial issues is considered politically “sensitive” after the stock market crash earlier this year.
It cited the case of Wang Xiaolu, a reporter for the Beijing-based business magazine Caijing, detained on Aug. 25 on suspicion of “colluding with others and fabricating and spreading false information about securities and futures trading,” after he reported that a regulator was examining ways for securities companies to withdraw funds from the stock market.
Wang later appeared on state television to confess it was all a lie. Many people believed Wang was only a scapegoat for the crash, as televised confessions are a tactic repeatedly used by Chinese authorities in dealing with journalists who cover sensitive stories.
Veteran Beijing journalist Gao Yu also made a televised confession for “leaking state secrets” in an article written for Chinese language website Deutsche Welle.
Earlier this year, 197 journalists were punished for covering the stock market crash and the Tianjin explosion.
Even after serving time, the punishment doesn’t typically end and it can even extend to a journalist’s family, such was the case for Jie Mu, who served a four-year jail term for “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order” and “illegal possession of a firearm” after he wrote about official abuse of power.
After Jie’s release, the police mostly left him alone, but according to Jie, his family was affected, and some family members had their income “cut off.” He said:
They are persecuting me by economic means, because I have no income whatsoever, no welfare subsistence, no health insurance. I rely entirely on my brother and sister to support me. Even my in-laws have had all of their sources of income cut off.
I can’t buy tickets for travel with my ID, while any [fellow activists] who come here to see me get detained at the gate.
CPJ also cited the case of RFA Uyghur Service journalist Shohret Hoshur, whose three brothers, Tudaxun, Shawket, and Rexim, have been jailed on subversion-related charges “in retaliation for Hoshur’s work.”
Meanwhile, Hangzhou-based freelance journalist Zan Aizhong said he is unable to post articles online, because he is under residential surveillance by state security police.
“The police are controlling me, so I can’t talk,” Zan said. “They are outside my home. They won’t let me write articles. If I do, they summon me for questioning and search my home, and stuff like that.”
CPJ’s list was compiled using data showing journalists incarcerated at 12:01 a.m. on December 1, 2015, and does not include all the journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year.
By Mary DeMay