31 Jan 2022

Locked Down, Locked Up or Kicked Out - FCCC report

Locked Down or Kicked Out covering China. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China’s 2021 report presents a stark account of a relentless crackdown on free reporting in and out of the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong. Download the report from FCCC’s website here, or click thumbnail.

Visa restrictions, arbitrary use of Covid-19 restrictions, intimidation, threats, physical harassment, doxing, surveillance and exit bans are but some of the many state-employed tactics to force foreign correspondents, local staff and sources into compliance with “telling the China story well”.

Detailed direct testimonies from journalists provide a must-read insight into the heavy personal cost imposed by what the Committee for the Protection of Journalists called the “world’s worst jailer of journalists” in its latest annual survey. In fact, to the FCCC’s report title we would add Locked Up as the enforced disappearances and imprisonment of local (citizen) journalists under the guise of endangering national security is being ramped up.

127: the number of journalists currently detained in mainland China and Hong Kong according to Reporters Without Borders’ December 2021 report An unprecedented RSF investigation: The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China.

Among them Zhang Zhan (张展), a citizen journalist who has been detained since May 2020 and later convicted to a four-year prison sentence for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in December 2020 for her reporting from Wuhan in the early days of COVID-19 and criticism of the government’s response. Gravely ill following an enduring hunger strike, in November 2021 UN Special Procedures called for her immediate and unconditional release: “Failure by the Chinese authorities to act swiftly and effectively could have fatal consequences for Zhang Zhan”. The UN independent experts further added: “The arrest and detention of Zhang Zhan and a number of other citizen journalists for reporting on the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, a matter of vital public interest, is deeply troubling. Not only does it represent an effort by the authorities to censor information in the public interest, but it is a worrying retaliatory measure aimed at punishing those who attempt to circumvent this censorship to share information in the interest of the public health.”

Others currently disappeared or in detention include: Fang Bin (方斌), another citizen journalist who went to Wuhan in early 2020; Cheng Lei (成蕾), an Australian citizen who was detained in August 2020 amid worsening Australia-China relations; and Haze Fan (范若伊), a member of the Bloomberg News team in Beijing, was detained a year ago under unclear circumstances. According to Bloomberg she remains incommunicado, “with no information forthcoming on her case”

The same fate is befalling Hong Kong, as highlighted in the FCCC’s 2021 report which highlights the forced closure of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and the imprisonment of its owner Jimmy Lai (黎智英) and five of its top executives. It was but the beginning: As 2021 drew to a close, seven editors and board members at the independent outlet Stand News were arrested under the National Security Law. Citizen News, another independent outlet that also closely covered Hong Kong’s 2019 anti-ex- tradition protests, shut down soon after over safety concerns.

The picture painted by the FCCC’s report, aptly released just prior to the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics from which many contributing correspondents have been shunned, provides a remarkable behind-the-scenes insight into the PRC’s propaganda and censorship machinery. Two faces of the same medallion taking the reader into the climate of fear and oppression stifling all free expression under the CCP’s relentless rule.