Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

Attacks on the Press in 2000 - China: Hong Kong

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2001
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2000 - China: Hong Kong, February 2001, available at: [accessed 21 February 2018]
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.

Three years after China gained control of Hong Kong in exchange for a promise to leave its political and economic liberties intact, Beijing expressed open hostility toward the former British colony's largely uncensored media, prompting unease among local journalists.

In March, Beijing went ballistic when Hong Kong Cable TV broadcast an interview with Annette Lu, a supporter of Taiwanese independence who had just been elected vice-president of Taiwan. Lu's contention that Taiwan and China were only "distant relatives" prompted mainland official Wang Fengchao to suggest that the Hong Kong press should not be allowed to cover issues relating to Taiwanese or Tibetan independence. In addition, he demanded that the Hong Kong government enact sedition laws to punish anyone who broached such forbidden topics.

The independent Hong Kong Journalists Association reacted by releasing a petition signed by 837 journalists, vowing "resolute opposition to becoming propaganda tools for promoting state policies." After much prodding, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, Beijing's handpicked leader, publicly re-affirmed that press freedom was guaranteed under the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs the territory.

While the Hong Kong government did not in fact pass laws on covering Taiwan or anything else, Wang's outburst led many observers to argue that such statements could slowly undermine press freedom by encouraging Hong Kong journalists to censor themselves lest they offend Beijing.

In October, Chinese president Jiang Zemin berated a group of Hong Kong reporters in Beijing. After a reporter asked Jiang if the beleaguered Tung was the "emperor's choice" to remain in power in Hong Kong for a second five-year term, the president became furious. "I'm addressing you as an elder. I'm not a reporter. But I have seen too much and it's necessary to tell you," Jiang lectured in a raised voice, in front of the TV cameras. "In reporting, if there are errors you must be responsible.... You ask me whether we support Mr. Tung? If we don't support him, how could he be chief executive?" Following the outburst, Jiang turned his back on the reporters and muttered that they were "naïve."

Hong Kong's newspapers reacted with fury. "In just a few minutes, Mr. Jiang has undermined his own reputation," said the Hong Kong daily iMail. Apple Daily, a leading Chinese-language paper, called Jiang's performance a tantrum and printed a cartoon of the Chinese leader spouting fire on a blackened and bewildered television crew.

The year's incidents underscored the political culture gap between the mainland and Hong Kong, whose press is one of the freest in Asia and guards its liberties jealously. The territory is a center for the Chinese-language press worldwide, and an important source of news and commentary on mainland affairs. Beijing chafes at the constant criticism it receives in Hong Kong, but any overt action to curb civil liberties there would likely further strain relations with Taiwan, another democratic territory that Beijing hopes to entice with promises of autonomy and guaranteed freedoms.

In November, senior columnist Willy Wo-Lap Lam lost his high-profile job as China editor of the English-language South China Morning Post. Many viewed Lam's demotion as a sign of Beijing's dissatisfaction with the Hong Kong media. The move prompted Lam to resign from the paper in anger, claiming that the Post planned to "depoliticize" its China coverage.

Several months earlier, the newspaper's majority shareholder, Robert Kuok, had personally criticized Lam in the Post's letters section. The owner objected to a column suggesting that Beijing had ordered several Hong Kong tycoons, Kuok included, to rally behind Chief Executive Tung. But even though Kuok dismissed the article as "absolute exaggeration and fabrication," Lam stood by his story. The Post denied that Lam's replacement as China editor had anything to do with pressure from either Kuok or Beijing, insisting that he was free to continue writing for the paper.

Internet journalists CENSORED

On January 26, the Chinese government issued its first comprehensive set of regulations restricting Internet content. The rules, promulgated by the State Secrecy Bureau, explicitly restricted the online distribution of ill-defined "state secrets." The directives prohibit the transmission of any news that has not been officially sanctioned by the state, requiring people who "provide or distribute information via Internet connections [to] get secrecy examination and approval," according to the official Xinhua news agency. Because traditional media are severely restricted in China, the Internet has been an important tool for circulating independent news and information.

On October 1, Xinhua published a more detailed set of regulations, entitled "Measures for Managing Internet Information Services." These rules were part of a set of telecommunications regulations issued by the Chinese Cabinet in mid-September. The rules seem designed to shift the burden of policing the Internet from the government to Web site operators and Internet service providers, requiring them to keep detailed records of content and user identities for 60 days, and to turn these records over to police on demand.

Under the October 1 regulations, Internet companies are expressly forbidden to publish news on a host of topics already off-limits to China's traditional media-including information that is deemed harmful to China's reputation, disrupts social stability, or threatens the country's efforts at reunification with Taiwan.

The regulations also prohibit the posting of any material "advocating cults and superstition"-a move that would, among other things, curb the spread of news about the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. Web site operators who fail to report sensitive content to the authorities risk closure, giving them a powerful incentive to censor such material.

On November 6, the government released additional regulations requiring Chinese portal sites to use news from state-controlled media and to seek special permission if they wished to offer news from foreign media. Tough editorial conditions were imposed on sites that wished to generate their own news, and violators were threatened with closure.

Under the new rules, only state media would be allowed to set up news sites, and even they would be required to seek special approval from the State Council Information Office, a cabinet-level agency tied to the Communist Party's Propaganda Ministry. The Information Office was made the primary regulator of the Internet, with the role of supervising content.

Also on November 6, Xinhua published rules aimed at restricting chat rooms, one of the most popular features on most Chinese Internet sites. The regulations govern all online bulletin boards, meaning any service through which Internet users can post messages to a Web site.


Hua, a Stanford University scientist and permanent resident of the United States, was arrested on January 5, 1998, while on a visit to China, and later charged with revealing state secrets. The charge was believed to stem from articles Hua published about China's missile defense system.

An article that appeared in the Fall 1992 edition of the magazine International Security, "China's Ballistic Missile Programs: Technologies, Strategies, Goals," seems to have been of particular concern to authorities. John W. Lewis, a colleague at Stanford who co-authored many articles with Hua, including the one for International Security, argued that the "state secrets" charge was unfounded, since Hua's published work was all based on materials widely circulating in U.S. university libraries.

On November 25, 1998, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court tried Hua behind closed doors, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

In March 2000, the Beijing High People's Court nullified Hua's conviction by the lower court and ordered the case to be retried. This judicial reversal was extraordinary, particularly for a high-profile political case. Nevertheless, in April, the Beijing State Security Bureau rejected a request for Hua, who suffers from a rare form of male breast cancer, to be released on medical parole.

On November 23, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court modified its verdict slightly, sentencing Hua to 10 years in prison. News of Hua's sentence broke in February 2001, when a relative gave the information to foreign correspondents based in Beijing. An appeal was filed on November 28, according to The New York Times.
Hong Kong journalists THREATENED

A high government official warned Hong Kong media against reporting on the contentious issue of Taiwan's political status.

According to a report published by China's official news agency, Xinhua, Wang Fengchao, deputy director of the Chinese government's liaison office in Hong Kong, told a seminar organized by the Hong Kong Association of Journalists that the issue of Taiwan's independence could not be treated as a normal news story. Instead, "the media should make decisions in the interest of national unity," he said.

Wang also urged the Hong Kong government to draft anti-subversion legislation that could be used to curb press coverage of statements in support of Taiwan's independence.

Wang's comments followed the Hong Kong station Cable TV's broadcast of an interview with Taiwan's newly elected vice president, Annette Lu. During the interview, Lu stated that Taiwan should be considered a "remote relative and close neighbor of China." China considers Taiwan a renegade province, and has threatened war if Taipei declares independence.

In an April 13 protest letter to Chinese president Jiang Zemin, CPJ argued that Wang's remarks violated the principle of "one country, two systems," designed to preserve Hong Kong's civil and political liberties, including press freedom. (Article 27 of Hong Kong's Basic Law states, "Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press, and of publication.")

CPJ urged Jiang to uphold Beijing's pledge to respect Hong Kong's autonomy, and to guarantee publicly that Hong Kong's media would not be subject to official interference from Beijing.

Beijing Scene CENSORED

Chinese officials ordered the closure of Beijing Scene, a popular English-language weekly.

According to Scott Savitt, the paper's American editor, the ban came in response to an article he wrote entitled, "Welcome to the World of Easy Money, Convenient Alliances, and Shady Deals that Is Today's Communist Party," which was available as a link on Beijing Scene's Web site. According to Savitt, a translation of the article, written for an American college alumni magazine, was kept in his police file.

The weekly mainly featured cultural coverage and was aimed at Beijing's large expatriate community. It was published through a partnership with the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.

Beginning in December 1999, Chinese officials ordered the closure of hundreds of small publications, with the apparent aim of tightening state control over the media.


An, an anti-corruption activist who had published essays and articles on the subject, was sentenced to four years in prison on subversion charges. The Intermediate People's Court in Xinyang, Henan Province, announced the verdict, citing his writings as evidence of anti-state activity.

An's sisters told reporters that they planned to file an appeal with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

A former manager of an export trading company, An founded the organization China Corruption Monitor in 1998. The group reportedly exposed more than 100 cases of official malfeasance.

An was arrested in July 1999, and his trial took place in November of that year. The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said that the court delayed its announcement of the verdict due to political considerations.

On April 18, 2000, the day before An's verdict was announced, the UN Human Rights Commission voted not to act on a United States-sponsored resolution criticizing China's human rights record. Chinese authorities apparently waited to announce the An verdict until after the UN vote because they did not want to give their international critics more ammunition.

MAY 30
Qi Yanchen, free-lancer IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Nearly nine months after his arrest in September 1999, Qi was prosecuted for subversion before the Cangzhou People's Court. Qi, who had been employed as an economist with the local branch of the Agricultural Development Bank of China, published many articles in intellectual journals. He was the chief editor of Consultations, a short-lived online publication linked to the banned China Development Union. He also contributed to the pro-democracy electronic newsletter VIP Reference, published by U.S.-based Chinese dissidents. Qi wrote under the pen name Ji Li.

The half-day trial was closed to the public, but CPJ sources said that in their case against Qi the prosecution cited an article about the crackdown on the China Development Union, published in Hong Kong's Open magazine, and a story about the Falun Gong spiritual movement, published by VIP Reference.

Police arrested Qi on September 2, 1999, at his office in Botou, a suburb of Cangzhou, Hebei Province, for allegedly "spreading anti-government messages via the Internet." Qi's wife told reporters that police confiscated his computer, printer, fax machine, and a number of documents.

The arrest came shortly after Qi posted online excerpts from his unpublished manuscript "The Collapse of China," which discusses the causes of China's social instability and proposes possible reforms. CPJ could not confirm whether prosecutors used the book excerpts as evidence in the subversion trial.

In a July 12 letter sent to China's president Jiang Zemin, CPJ condemned the prolonged imprisonment of Qi Yanchen and called for his immediate release. On September 19, he was sentenced to four years in prison.

Huang Qi, Internet publisher IMPRISONED

Huang, publisher of the Web site Tianwang (, was imprisoned in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, along with his wife, Zeng Li. The arrest happened one day before the 11th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

At 5:00 p.m., four officers from the local Public Security Bureau (PSB) visited Huang's office to deliver an oral summons for his interrogation. They left after Huang requested a written summons, according to his own account, which he immediately posted on his Web site.

Huang continued to post updates until 5:20 p.m., when around a dozen PSB officers arrived at the office. They raided the premises, confiscating notebooks, photographs, and computers. Both Huang and his wife Zeng were taken into custody.

Just before the raid, Huang posted a final bulletin to the site: "Thanks to everybody devoted to democracy in China. They are here now (the policemen). So long."

Zeng was released on June 6. Later that day, PSB officers informed her that Huang was being charged with subversion, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

The Tianwang Web site was established in June 1999 to publicize information about missing persons in China. Gradually, it also began to feature commentary and news articles on topics not normally covered by the state-controlled media. The site published stories about human rights abuses, government corruption, and-just days before Huang was taken into custody-several pieces about Tiananmen.

After Huang's arrest, a message posted on the Tianwang site condemned the "political persecution" of Huang Qi, and noted that authorities had shut down the Web site at the end of February because it "posted a lot of internal news that upset the leaders."

The site was relaunched in mid-March, with the help of a U.S.-based Internet service provider, and is being updated regularly. It now features a log of the number of days Huang has been in prison.

In a July 12 letter to Chinese president Jiang Zemin, CPJ condemned his government's policy of jailing individuals for circulating independent news and information online, and urged him to order Huang Qi's immediate release.

New Culture Forum CENSORED

Authorities banned the Web site of the New Culture Forum ( because of its "sharp and anti-government content," according to Li Tao, general manager of the company that hosted the site.

After the site was banned, on August 3, police continued to harass employees at Li's company, the Million Internet Company in Beijing. Police interrogated Li on four separate occasions between August 4 and August 7, according to the New York-based organization Human Rights in China (HRIC), and ordered him to identify the staff of the New Culture Forum site.

The articles posted on the site were written by veteran dissidents from Shandong Province, but were not directly critical of the Chinese government, according to CPJ sources. Instead they argued that the beginning of a new century should be a time for both citizens and public officials to find new strategies for dealing with social problems.

One of the most prolific contributors to the site was author and lawyer Mu Chuanheng, a well-known political dissident from the city of Qingdao. Mu has been barred from practicing law since 1985, and all his books have been banned, according to CPJ sources.

Li told reporters that police had asked him to monitor more closely the sites that his company hosts, and to report any suspicious content to the authorities.

In an August 10 letter to President Jiang Zemin, CPJ requested that the New Culture Forum be allowed to resume online publishing, with no restrictions on its content.

Bei Ling, Tendency IMPRISONED
Huang Feng, free-lancer IMPRISONED

Police in Beijing arrested Bei Ling, a poet and editor of the U.S.-based Chinese literary magazine Qingxiang ("Tendency") as he returned from visiting relatives in Shanghai. Bei Ling had gone to Beijing in June and was planning to return to his home in Boston at the end of August.

Police also seized some 2000 copies of the journal's August edition, which contained a guide to underground Chinese literature. The issue also featured work by the Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, a poem by dissident literary critic Liu Xiaobo, and a photograph of Wang Dan, a leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests who now lives in exile in the United States.

On August 17, just hours after U.S. ambassador Joseph Prueher expressed concern over Bei Ling's case at a press conference in Beijing, police arrested the editor's brother, free-lance writer Huang Feng. On August 25, in the wake of intense international publicity and diplomatic pressure on Beijing, both men were released separately. Chinese officials deported Bei Ling to the United States on August 26.

Upon his release, Bei Ling said police had accused him of publishing illegally, and warned that if he did not agree to leave the country he would face up to 10 years in prison. Though a legal resident of the United States, Bei Ling, whose full name is Huang Beiling, is still a Chinese citizen. While he had traveled back and forth periodically between China and the U.S. in recent years, it was not clear whether he would be permitted to return to his homeland.

Huang Feng, who was charged with illegally transporting publications, received a year's probation. He declined to comment further on his case because, as he told the Agence France-Presse news agency, "I'm living in China and anything I say might get me in trouble."

Ma Xiaoming, Shaanxi Television HARASSED

Police detained Ma, a reporter for Shaanxi Television, for 11 hours in order to prevent him from meeting with Asian Wall Street Journal reporter Ian Johnson. Picked up by police at around 1:00 p.m., Ma was returned home around midnight. He later told Agence France-Presse that police had learned of his plans to meet Johnson by tapping his telephone.

Ma had been investigating a story about peasants from eight villages in Shaanxi Province who were trying to sue the local and county governments for excessive taxes, physical abuse, and harassment. Their efforts were being thwarted by local authorities, who jailed their lawyer in 1999.

According to news reports, Chinese authorities have repeatedly harassed Ma about his journalism.

Jiang Qisheng, free-lancer IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court sentenced Jiang, a free-lance journalist and political dissident, to four years in prison on subversion charges. During Jiang's two-and-a-half-hour trial, held on November 1, 1999, prosecutors cited an April essay, "Light a Thousand Candles," as evidence of his anti-state activities. The essay called for a candlelight vigil to be held on June 4 at Tiananmen Square, in honor of those killed by government troops during the brutal suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989.

Prosecutors also accused Jiang, a leader of the 1989 student movement, of circulating an article by Li Xiaoping on political reform. Jiang claimed he had showed the piece to only three friends.

Jiang's lawyer told journalists that the 13-month delay between conviction and sentencing "violated the legal process." In an open letter circulated by the New York-based organization Human Rights in China on January 6, 2001, four trial witnesses claimed that testimony attributed to them in the official verdict had been fabricated.

Police arrested Jiang late on the night of May 18, 1999, and searched his home, seizing his computer, several documents, and articles he had written for Beijing Spring, a New York-based pro-democracy publication. Jiang was held incommunicado for nearly two months before police notified his wife, Zhang Hong, that he was officially under arrest. Even then, they refused to provide an arrest warrant.

Jiang spent 18 months in jail following the 1989 crackdown, but continued to be outspoken on political issues after his release.

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