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Attacks on the Press in 1998 - China

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1999
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1998 - China, February 1999, available at: [accessed 20 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

As of December 31, 1998

Speculation that President Jiang Zemin's appointment of economic reformer Zhu Rongji as premier in March would quickly lead to political reform was sadly mistaken. The much-discussed thaw in the chilly climate for free expression in China that was apparent last year was reversed with a vengeance this year, especially after U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit in June. And the decision to sign the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in October did little to change the climate of free expression in the country. Activists associated with attempts to form an opposition political party advocating a free press and other reforms were detained and imprisoned late in the year. In December, the Department of Propaganda of the Communist Party's Central Committee began a series of reprisals against independent-minded newspapers and publishing houses. Cultural Times, an influential newspaper in Guangzhou, near Hong Kong, was shut down, and senior editorial staff members of another Guangzhou newspaper, The Hong Kong-Guangzhou Information Daily, were dismissed. Both foreign and local journalists faced harassment, censorship, persecution, and expulsion.

China's constitution has long guaranteed freedoms of association and expression which, in practice, have been over-ridden by other clauses relating to national security and the primacy of the Communist Party. Journalists report that while they can cover local corruption and grievances against such low-level functionaries as police, they receive little support from editors and publishers of the state-run newspapers when they do so. According to some reporters, threats from powerful private business interests against journalists who cover their activities are also growing. Such threats may have given partial impetus to the creation in August of the Committee for Safeguarding Legal Rights of Journalists, under the auspices of the state-sanctioned All-China Journalists Association (ACJA). Official news accounts claimed that the committee would "protect the rights of the nation's 500,000 journalists." But the lack of an independent press makes it difficult to believe that such a committee would do anything to represent the interests of journalists who run afoul of powerful officials.

In a speech to law enforcement officials in late December, Jiang said the crackdown was likely to last for at least a year. "Any factors that could jeopardize our stability must be annihilated in the early stages," Jiang said, demonstrating the repressive approach to the press that earned him a place on CPJ's annual list of the 10 worst Enemies of the Press.

In a rare interview, Li Peng, the chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC), ruled out democratic reforms in China. Addressing the issue of the press during the interview with the German newspaper Handlesblatt, Li, second in the Communist Party hierarchy, said: "The principle of freedom of the press should be followed, but no individual's freedom should hinder the freedom of others." Voicing the standard party line, Li warned that "press freedom should be conducive to national development and social stability."

In practice, this policy means that journalists have little or no freedom to discuss political questions that might challenge the national leadership. In September, for example, Shi Binhai, an editor with the newspaper China Economic Times, was detained without charges, leading to speculation that he was punished for co-editing the book Political China: Facing the Era of Choosing a New Structure, a compilation of articles by intellectuals and former government officials on the need for political reform. The publication in August was initially taken by many as a sign that the range of ideas allowed to be discussed was broadening, but in November the book was banned. In early January 1999, authorities suspended the operations of China Today Publishers, the publishing house that issued Political China, and ordered two of its top editors to write "self-criticisms" – the standard ideological punishment in China.

Coverage of dissidents repeatedly sparked the authorities' ire. Two foreign correspondents – one Japanese and one German – were summarily expelled at different times from the country. Both had had contacts with dissidents. In September, Natalie Liu, a free-lance CBS News producer working in Beijing, was arrested at home by police. Liu, a legal resident of the United States who holds a Chinese passport, was released three days later and allowed to leave the country. She had helped arrange an interview with former political prisoner Bao Tong, which aired on CBS the day President Clinton arrived in China.

At least 12 journalists remain imprisoned in China, including Gao Yu, a reporter serving a six-year sentence for "leaking state secrets" in articles she wrote for Mirror Monthly, a Hong Kong magazine. Although she is seriously ill and has been honored by numerous international groups, Beijing has refused to heed calls for her release.Wang Dan, a leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest movement, was released from prison and sent into exile in the United States in April, continuing a pattern of deporting democracy movement leaders. Late in the year, an article in The People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, reported that 190 people had received prison terms for distributing or storing illegal political publications, but it was not possible to independently verify that report.

Attacks on the Press in China in 1998

11/17/98Juergen Kremb, Der SpiegelExpelled
10/04/98Yukihisa Nakatsu, Yomiuri ShimbunExpelled
09/05/98Shi Binhai, China Economic TimesImprisoned
09/02/98Natalie Liu, CBS NewsImprisoned, Harassed
08/19/98Albert Cheng, Commercial Radio StationAttacked
06/20/98Artin Basu, Radio Free AsiaCensored
06/20/98Patricia Hindman, Radio Free AsiaCensored
06/20/98Feng Xiaoming, Radio Free AsiaCensored
06/20/98Apple DailyCensored
06/20/98Next MagazineCensored
04/19/98Wang DanExpelled
03/25/98Lin Hai, software entrepreneurImprisoned, Legal Action
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