It was a disappointing year for those who hoped that President Hu Jintao would allow a greater degree of freedom for China's increasingly market-oriented press. After taking over the presidency from Jiang Zemin in 2003, Hu consolidated power in September 2004, when Jiang gave up his final leadership post, the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission. The subsequent crackdown on the media was yet another example of the long-standing government policy of muzzling independent voices.
According to a September 26 statement from the Chinese Communist Party following the plenum that confirmed Jiang's retirement, officials will "persist in the principle of party control of the media" and "further improve propaganda in newspapers and journals, broadcasting and TV." With 87 million Internet users among its citizens, the government resolved to "strengthen the building of the Internet propaganda contingent, and form a strong momentum of positive public opinion on the 'net."
New and diverse print, broadcast, and electronic media outlets have burgeoned during China's astounding economic boom. The government has had to adapt to the shifting dynamics of the media amid technological advances and commercial growth. Authorities increased surveillance of cell phone text messaging and digital video broadcasts in 2004 in response to the rapid flow of information throughout the country that those technologies have enabled. The government also struggled to maintain control over reporters and editors who have broken new ground in their coverage of crime and corruption in an increasingly competitive media environment.
However, market forces alone are proving to be inadequate to create an independent press. Private companies, both foreign and domestic, have overwhelmingly demonstrated complacency toward government censorship. Meanwhile, international diplomatic pressure over China's human rights record – including its treatment of journalists – has diminished as China gains confidence as a world economic power. China continues to be the world's leading jailer of journalists (42 were behind bars at year's end), and in 2004, authorities intensified the fear among journalists by going after several high-profile members of the press.
Fighting for reform beyond the scope of economics, growing numbers of journalists, scholars, and lawyers within China have stepped up to challenge the Communist Party line on crucial issues such as rural poverty, AIDS, the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, and the media's role in society. These prominent individuals are censorship's biggest threat, and the target of 2004's crackdown. Late in the year, the government even banned the use of the term "public intellectuals" to refer to thinkers who involve themselves in public affairs.
Chinese lawyers are playing an increasingly important role in fighting for freedom of expression. Though the Chinese Constitution protects this freedom, it is mitigated in practice by a complex system of media regulations. The courts, which often follow instructions from high-level party officials, give freedom of expression a narrow range and favor an expansive interpretation of the constitutional prohibition on disrupting the socialist state and the leadership of the Communist Party.
Domestic advocacy by lawyers and others, aided by Internet communication, may have accounted for the unusually light sentence handed to journalist Du Daobin after his October 2003 arrest. Du, a prominent and respected Internet essayist, was convicted of "incitement to subvert state power," in part for advocating for the release from prison of fellow Internet journalist Liu Di. On June 11, a Hubei court convicted Du on subversion-related charges but suspended his three-year prison sentence and placed him on probation. His lawyer's argument that Du was simply exercising his right to freedom of expression was bolstered by a letter addressed to Premier Wen Jiabao that was signed by more than 100 supporters. The terms of Du's probation forbid him from, among other things, posting articles online.
In January, authorities initiated a spurious investigation into corruption among editors at the popular Guangzhou-based daily Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis Daily). In 2003, the paper was among the most aggressive in reporting on the death of a graphic designer who was allegedly fatally beaten in police custody. The paper was the first to report a new case of SARS in Guangzhou on December 26, 2003. On March 19, Nanfang Dushi Bao Deputy Editor-in-Chief Yu Huafeng was sentenced to 12 years in prison on corruption charges. On the same day, Li Minying, a former editor at Nanfang Dushi Bao, was sentenced to 11 years on bribery charges. In an appellate hearing in June, their sentences were reduced to eight and six years, respectively.
Also detained in the corruption investigation was Cheng Yizhong, the independent-minded former editor-in-chief at Nanfang Dushi Bao. The authorities' decision to go after such a well-known journalist created a stir among Chinese scholars, lawyers, journalists, and government officials. When Cheng was released without charge in August, his lawyer credited the support that the editor had garnered domestically. It was not enough to win Cheng his job back, however; the journalist was later stripped of his Communist Party membership, which means he can no longer practice his profession.
Crackdowns on the press intensified during the fall. The popular Internet forum Yitahutu, which covered a wide range of topics, including human rights and democracy, was shuttered; the foreign-affairs magazine Zhanlue yu Guanli was closed; and other well-known journalists and their advocates were harassed, detained, or fired for their work.
In September, authorities detained New York Times researcher Zhao Yan on suspicion of "providing state secrets to foreigners," a crime punishable by execution. Authorities did not release details about the case and rebuffed numerous international inquiries. In the months before his arrest, authorities had harassed and threatened Zhao for his aggressive reporting on rural issues for China Reform magazine. He was a strong advocate for farmers displaced by corrupt local officials and worked as an activist to help them collect appropriate compensation.
But the immediate pretext for Zhao's arrest appeared to be a September 7 article in The New York Times that disclosed Jiang's retirement plans prior to the official announcement. Zhao told at least one friend in the days before he was detained that authorities had contacted him to question whether he was the source of the scoop, according to inter-national news reports and the group Human Rights in China. The New York Times stated "categorically" that Zhao did not provide any state secrets to the newspaper. The Times said Zhao did no reporting for the newspaper and had no involvement in the Jiang article.
The arrest was widely seen as an attempt to stymie foreign journalists' coverage of Chinese political affairs and punish a journalist who had long been a thorn in the side of the government.
Byzantine licensing requirements ensure that press outlets remain under the control of local government agencies. In addition, provincial and central propaganda departments routinely issue bans on a changing list of topics. In 2004, media blackouts were imposed on riots in the countryside, coal-mining accidents, and the regular influx to Beijing of petitioners seeking redress from the central government (who were detained by the tens of thousands during the September plenum). When Beijing University journalism professor Jiao Guobiao wrote an essay that circulated on the Internet in early 2004 slamming the Central Propaganda Bureau and its arbitrary designation of banned topics, he lost his teaching responsibilities and became a banned topic himself.
In the beginning of 2004, the government announced new guidelines to allow private investors to take direct ownership shares in newspapers, magazines, broadcast media, and publishing houses. The guidelines did not rule out foreign investors. In recent years, backdoor private investment in the media and an increased reliance on advertisers have forced news outlets to function more like businesses, competing for advertising and circulation, and less like party mouthpieces. Even state-run publications have had to compete; in March, state media reported that 667 government-run newspapers had been closed in the last seven months in accordance with new measures to end state funding of unprofitable publications.
Pressure to compete has pushed reporters to aggressively pursue stories of local corruption, crime, celebrity scandal, and natural and environmental disasters. The evolving role of journalists as watchdogs and profit-makers has also exposed them to new dangers. In August, CPJ released a special report on journalists who face violent retribution for their work. Incidents of attacks on reporters by those implicated in their investigations of crime and corruption have occurred with growing frequency. The central government is ill-prepared to safeguard journalists, and reporters who are assaulted often have no recourse to defend themselves.
Journalists covering crime and corruption increasingly face politicized civil libel suits intended to bring them to heel. Media outlets almost always lose. In 2004, the banned book An Investigation of China's Peasantry, which exposed local corruption and official abuse of peasants in Anhui Province, sold millions in pirated copies across China. Authors Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, who did not receive proceeds from the sales, were tried for civil libel in August. An official named in their book sued the two in the same county where he had long served as the local Communist Party secretary. At year's end, no verdict had been reached.
China stepped up efforts to monitor Internet users in 2004 by improving surveillance systems at Internet cafés. Ostensibly a measure to protect children from viewing violent or pornographic material, authorities also penalized any café that allowed users to spread politically sensitive information. At year's end, at least 19 journalists remained in prison for posting commentary or information on the Internet, according to CPJ research.
Private companies, both foreign and domestic, have shown little inclination to challenge the party's ideological monopoly. In 2004, Google launched a Chinese-language news service that doesn't display Web sites blocked by Chinese authorities. In response to criticism, the company argued that its decision was in line with its policy to avoid displaying links whose contents are inaccessible. Yahoo! had already censored its search engine in China. Other multinationals, including the U.S. company Cisco and Canada's Nortel Networks, have provided China with technology used to monitor Internet users and filter content. These companies appear to follow the philosophy put forth by Cisco in 2002. A company spokesman told Newsweek: "If the Chinese government wants to monitor Internet users, that's their business. We are basically politically neutral."
Pro-democracy politicians, journalists, and citizens, who have been some of the best advocates for press freedom in Hong Kong, suffered setbacks in 2004 that adversely affected conditions for the local media. Nonetheless, Hong Kong's press remained among the freest in the region.
Beijing tightened its grip on Hong Kong in 2004, barring direct elections in 2007 and 2008 for the territory's chief executive and legislature, respectively. Observers say the move was a direct response to demonstrations in 2003 against repressive anti-subversion legislation that brought an astounding 500,000 protesters out onto the streets and ensured the indefinite shelving of the bill. But the ban on direct elections did not impede a huge turnout for the July 1 protests marking the anniversary of the handover of power from the United Kingdom to China in July 1997.
Despite the anti-China sentiments, Beijing won a victory when the pro-democracy Democratic Party failed to take a majority of seats on the Legislative Council (LegCo) in September elections. The outcome did not reflect popular opinion; pro-democracy candidates won a clear majority of the popular vote. Only half of LegCo's 60 members were elected by Hong Kong citizens; professional and industry groups – so-called functional constituencies that are traditionally pro-Beijing – chose the remaining 30.
In the run-up to the election, three popular radio hosts left their jobs in quick succession, claiming that they had been threatened and pressured to stop their pro-democracy broadcasting. Albert Cheng, longtime host of the popular morning call-in show "Teacup in a Storm," aired on privately owned Commercial Radio, resigned on May 7, citing anonymous death threats, as well as Hong Kong's "suffocating political climate." Cheng, who won a seat in LegCo in September, was known for his staunch criticism of China and Hong Kong's China-appointed Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.
Days later, on May 13, Wong Yuk-man (also known as Raymond Wong) announced that he was taking a temporary break from hosting the Commercial Radio evening show "Close Encounters of a Political Kind" because he was "physically and mentally tired." Wong had criticized the Communist Party in his broadcasts. He later told the Hong Kong-based Chinese-language weekly Next that pro-Beijing businessmen had attempted to bribe and coerce him into silence. When a third host, Albert Cheng's more moderate replacement, Allen Lee, resigned from "Teacup in a Storm" on May 19, Hong Kong academics, journalists, and Democratic members of the legislature protested the erosion of press freedom.
Lee, a Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), told members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council that Chinese officials had threatened and pressured him to cease his on-air support of democracy. A commentary in the Chinese government-owned English-language China Daily warned Lee before he resigned that, "Political figures must watch their words and deeds very carefully." Lee also resigned from the NPC on May 19.
Despite the resignations, Commercial Radio Chief Executive Winnie Yu denied that the station was succumbing to political pressure. But the popular "Teacup in a Storm" was taken off the air in October to make way for programming with "rational and emotional appeal," Yu told reporters.
Some journalists said that pressure to avoid harsh criticism of China has steadily increased since the 1997 handover; the owners of most of the territory's print and broadcast outlets have business or political interests in China. But other journalists note that China continues to have little day-to-day control over media operations. Despite the loss of an important talk-radio forum, Hong Kong print and broadcast outlets thoroughly covered the summer's demonstrations – which Beijing sought to downplay – and continued to serve up hard news and criticism of China and the local government.
In July, officers from Hong Kong's anticorruption agency, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), raided the offices of seven newspapers. In a sweeping and heavy-handed investigation to identify who leaked a protected witness's name, officers subjected journalists to extensive questioning, searched computers, and seized material from their offices.
In August, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance ruled in favor of Sing Tao Daily, one of the newspapers that was raided, and revoked the ICAC search warrant. Court Justice Michael Hartmann called the agency's tactics unnecessarily intrusive. The ICAC appealed the ruling, and the Court of Appeal dismissed the case, saying it had no jurisdiction. However, the court did release a legally nonbinding, but potentially persuasive, statement saying that the ICAC was justified in its raid.
2004 Documented Cases – China
JANUARY 6, 2004
Posted: January 30, 2004
Cheng Yizhong, Nanfang Dushi Bao
Zeng Wenqiong, Nanfang Dushi Bao
At about 4 p.m., authorities detained Cheng, the editor of the Guangzhou-based daily Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis News), from the paper's offices and brought him to the local prosecutor's office. Six employees of the newspaper's business department were also detained. Cheng was interrogated about the paper's financial activities, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy. He was released eight hours later. It is unclear if the other staff members were released at the same time.
Journalists at the newspaper suspected that the detention was linked to the newspaper's reporting about the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and other politically sensitive issues. On December 26, the Nanfang Dushi Bao reported a suspected SARS case in Guangzhou, the first new case in China since the epidemic died out in July 2003. The government had not yet publicly released information about the case when the newspaper's report came out.
On January 2, before Cheng's detention, newspaper staff told Agence France-Presse that the reporter of the SARS story, Zeng Wenqiong, and a deputy news editor were being investigated over the report, which was published without the requisite official permission. Zeng later told Reuters that she was being "kept a little away from SARS" and was no longer allowed to cover the story.
Some Chinese journalists speculated that the harassment of Cheng could also be in retaliation for other reporting by the paper that had shown local officials in a bad light. The paper was one of the most aggressive in reporting on the March 2003 death of college student Sun Zhigang, who was beaten to death in police custody in Guangzhou. Public outcry over his death led to the arrest of several local government and police officials.
On January 14, 2003, the official, English-language China Daily reported that another staff member of Nanfang Dushi Bao, surnamed Yu, was also detained on suspicion of financial irregularities at the paper and had been under house surveillance since early 2003. No further details were given. The China Daily report denied that the harassment of Nanfang Dushi Bao staff was related to the paper's reporting on SARS. Quoting a propaganda official from Guangdong Province, the report said that the staff members were detained "because one of the newspaper's staff is allegedly involved in a 'bribery case' rather than for the reasons reported by overseas media."
Nanfang Dushi Bao is part of the Nanfang Daily Group, which publishes several of China's most aggressive and independent newspapers, including Nanfang Zhoumo (Southern Weekend). In March 2003, Ershiyi Shiji Huanqiu Baodao (21st Century World Herald), another Nanfang Daily publication, was closed down after it published an interview with a former secretary of Mao Zedong, in which he called for political reforms.
In mid-2003, Chinese government officials imposed a news blackout on the spread of SARS, which eventually killed 774 people in 11 countries, including 349 in mainland China. Following widespread condemnation by the international community, China's leaders called for rapid and accurate reporting of all new SARS cases in the country in 2004.
MARCH 9, 2004
Posted: March 10, 2004
Three reporters, Apple Daily
HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION
Authorities in Beijing interrogated three reporters from the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily newspaper yesterday and then deported them to Hong Kong, according to a spokesman for the paper. Apple Daily is the second-largest Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong.
Early on the morning of March 9, security officials arrived at the journalists' hotel and brought them in for questioning. The journalists were held for six hours before officials escorted them to the airport and put them on a flight to Hong Kong. The two reporters, surnamed Chan and Ho, and a photographer, whose name was unavailable, were in Beijing to cover the annual meetings of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Apple Daily officials have not provided any further details about the incident, and authorities in China have not said why the journalists were expelled.
Media from Hong Kong are required to apply for permission to report from mainland China. Authorities routinely refuse accreditation for Apple Daily, which frequently publishes reports critical of the Chinese government. According to the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Chan, Ho, and the photographer did not have proper accreditation to report from China.
MARCH 19, 2004
Updated July 15, 2004
Yu Huafeng, Nanfang Dushi Bao
Li Minying, Nanfang Daily Group
IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
The Dongshan District Court in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, sentenced Yu Huafeng, Nanfang Dushi Bao deputy editor-in-chief and general manager, to 12 years in prison on corruption charges. Li Minying, former editor of Nanfang Dushi Bao, was sentenced to 11 years for bribery in a related case. Li also served on the Communist Party Committee of the Nanfang Daily Group, the newspaper's parent company,
In an appeal trial held on June 7, 2004, Li's sentence was reduced to six years in prison, while Yu's sentence was reduced to eight years.
Nanfang Dushi Bao has become very popular in recent years for its aggressive investigative reporting on social issues and wrongdoing by local officials. The paper broke news that a young graphic designer, Sun Zhigang, was beaten to death in March 2003 while being held in police custody in Guangzhou. Public outcry over Sun's death led to the arrest of several local government and police officials.
On December 26, 2003, the Nanfang Dushi Bao reported a suspected SARS case in Guangzhou, the first new case in China since the epidemic died out in July 2003. The government had not yet publicly released information about the case when the newspaper's report was published. Editors and reporters who worked on the SARS story were reprimanded. Yu was detained on January 14, according to a report in the official, English-language China Daily.
According to a March 19 report in the official Xinhua News Agency, Yu was convicted for embezzling 580,000 yuan (US$70,000) and distributing it to members of the paper's editorial committee. The court also accused Yu of paying Li a total of 800,000 yuan (US$97,000) in bribes while Li was editor of Nanfang Dushi Bao. Li was accused of accepting bribes totaling 970,000 (US$117,000).
Both men maintain that the money under question was acquired legally and was considered routine bonuses handed out to staff. Chinese journalists familiar with the case have told CPJ that evidence presented in court did not support the charges of corruption. Yu and Li have said they will appeal the ruling.
In recent years, government authorities have made moves to consolidate control over the Nanfang Daily Group, which owns a number of China's most independent and popular newspapers, including Nanfang Zhoumo (Southern Weekend) and Ershiyi Shiji Jingji Baodao (21st Century Economic Herald). In March 2003, the Ershiyi Shiji Huanqiu Baodao (21st Century World Herald), also owned by the Nanfang Daily Group, was closed after it ran a series of sensitive stories, including an interview with a former secretary of Mao Zedong who called for political reforms.
MARCH 19, 2004
Posted: March 26, 2004
Updated: August 31, 2004
Cheng Yizhong, Nanfang Dushi Bao
At about 3:00 a.m., public security officials from Guangzhou arrested Nanfang Dushi Bao Editor-in-Chief Cheng Yizhong while he was visiting Sichuan Province. He was brought back to Guangdong and was detained in the Number One Detention Center in Guangzhou for more than five months on suspicion of corruption. Officials also searched his home in Guangzhou and confiscated a number of publications and books about Chinese politics, according to CPJ sources.
The same day, the Dongshan District Court in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, sentenced Yu Huafeng, Nanfang Dushi Bao deputy editor-in-chief and general manager, to 12 years in prison on corruption charges. Li Minying, former editor of Nanfang Dushi Bao, was sentenced to 11 years for bribery in a related case. Li also served on the Communist Party Committee of the Nanfang Daily Group, the newspaper's parent company.
In an appeal trial held on June 7, 2004, Li's sentence was reduced to six years in prison, while Yu's sentence was reduced to eight years.
Under Cheng's leadership, Nanfang Dushi Bao has become very popular in recent years for its aggressive investigative reporting. CPJ believes that authorities have targeted the paper for coverage that showed local officials in a negative light. Specifically, the paper broke news that young graphic designer Sun Zhigang was beaten to death in March 2003 while being held in police custody in Guangzhou. Public outcry over Sun's death led to the arrest of several local government and police officials.
In December 2003, Nanfang Dushi Bao reported a suspected SARS case in Guangzhou, the first new case in China since the epidemic died out in July 2003. The government had not yet publicly released information about the case when the newspaper's report was published. On January 6, 2004, security officials detained Cheng for eight hours and questioned him about financial irregularities at the paper. The reporter who covered the SARS case was also put "under investigation." Yu and Li were arrested the following week. Since then, reporters at the paper have been under heightened surveillance and warned against talking to the foreign press.
Authorities released Cheng on August 27 after a strong appeal on his behalf by scholars, lawyers and journalists within China.
APRIL 2, 2004
Posted: April 20, 2004
Two journalists were forcibly removed by police while reporting on a demonstration outside the Central Government Office in Hong Kong.
Late in the evening of April 1, members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students gathered outside the Central Government Offices to protest against the Beijing government's plan to offer an interpretation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's constitution. By morning, about 400 protesters had gathered in a sit-in. At about 5 a.m., police arrived on the scene to clear the protesters before the government offices opened for business. Before clearing protesters, police officers asked all journalists present to leave the area. After several of the journalists refused to leave, four police officers forcibly removed a Apple Daily reporter. An Oriental Daily journalist was injured in a scuffle with the police and treated in a hospital for minor injuries.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association, the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, and the Hong Kong News Executive Association all issued protests against the incident. Police Commissioner Dick Lee Ming-kwai responded that officers had used "minimum force" to remove the journalists.
MAY 2, 2004
Posted: May 11, 2004
Liu Shui, freelance
IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
Police in Shenzhen detained Liu and a friend on charges of "soliciting prostitution." They were brought to a detention center, where they were questioned. The next day, Liu's friend was released, according to press reports.
Liu was transferred to Xili Detention Center in Shenzhen, where he has been sentenced to two years of "custody and education," a form of administrative detention specifically designed for accused prostitutes and their clients. According to Chinese law, authorities can sentence individuals to up to two years of "custody and education" without holding a trial or filing formal charges.
Prior to his arrest, Liu had written a number of essays commemorating the June 4, 1989, military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing, advocating for the release of political prisoners, and calling for political reforms. Many of his essays were posted on Chinese-language Web sites hosted overseas.
Liu, 37, is a journalist who has worked as an editor and reporter for publications including Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis News) and Shenzhen Wanbao (Shenzhen Evening News), according to news reports.
This is the fourth time Liu has been arrested. In 1989, he was active in the democracy movement in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, and subsequently spent a year and three months in prison on charges of "counter-revolutionary propaganda and organization."
In 1994, he spent three years in prison on "counter-revolutionary propaganda" charges after editing a book titled The Truth About the June 4th Incident. He was also briefly detained in 1998.
In recent months, Liu Shui has written a number of essays, news reports, and poems that have been published online. In an article published on April 23, he reported on an anti-corruption protester in Shanghai whom police had beaten up and detained. He also published a poem in tribute of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of women whose relatives were killed or injured in the June 4, 1989, military crackdown. In one of his most recent articles, which was posted online on April 27, he interviewed family members of the New Youth Study Group-four young men who are serving lengthy prison sentences on "subversion" charges for using the Internet to distribute articles on social and political issues.
MAY 19, 2004
Posted: June 7, 2004
Allen Lee, Commercial Radio
HARASSED, THREATENED, CENSORED
Lee, former radio host for Hong Kong's Commercial Radio and delegate to the Chinese legislature, told members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council on May 27 that he quit both posts last week after being pressured by Beijing officials because of his support for democracy on-air.
Lee announced his resignation from both posts on May 19. He had been a host on the popular morning phone-in radio show "Teacup in the Storm" produced by the privately owned Commercial Radio.
In a specially convened meeting of the council's home affairs panel, Lee described several meetings in which Beijing officials, whom he refused to identify, pressured him to cease his public support for democracy in Hong Kong.
Lee also told the panel that a person claiming to be a former Chinese official phoned him to request a meeting, then brought up Lee's wife and daughter. Lee interpreted the comment as a threat and quit his posts as a "preventive measure," The Associated Press reported.
Lee said Beijing is seeking to limit public support for democracy prior to September legislative elections, in which 30 of the 60 members of Hong Kong's parliament, known as the Legislative Council, will be elected by popular vote. Previously, only 20 of the seats were directly elected.
Several days before Lee resigned, the official, English-language China Daily criticized him for advocating democracy on-air. "Political figures must watch their words and deeds very carefully," the newspaper warned.
Lee is the third Hong Kong radio host to step down in the last month, and of the three, he was considered the most moderate. Lee began hosting "Teacup in the Storm" after the departure of longtime regular host Albert Cheng, who resigned on May 3 in a pre-recorded on-air message. Cheng's announcement cited death threats and the "suffocating" political climate in the territory. Cheng had been an aggressive critic of both Beijing and Hong Kong's pro-Beijing Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.
On May 13, Wong Yuk-man (also known as Raymond Wong) announced he was taking a temporary break as host of Commercial Radio's "Close Encounter of the Political Kind" because he was "physically and mentally tired," according to a statement read by a guest host of his program. He did not say when he would go back on-air. Wong frequently criticized the mainland's Communist Party.
Lee's statements before the legislative panel are the most precise description so far of political pressure faced by pro-democracy Hong Kong commentators. Both Cheng and Wong refused to testify before the panel.
The departures of the three radio hosts have sparked fears of a crackdown on free expression in Hong Kong, following Beijing's announcement earlier this month that there would not be a transition to full democracy in Hong Kong in the near future. Today's edition of the Chinese-language Hong Kong-based Apple Daily carried an advertisement signed by 400 Hong Kong academics, who expressed "shock and concern" at the radio hosts' departures. "Today there is growing alarm at the threat to freedom of speech, and we need to be vigilant against the signs of its erosion," the advertisement said.
JUNE 6, 2004
Posted: July 15, 2004
Open Constitutional Initiative
Authorities closed the Open Constitutional Initiative (OCI) Web site, which had become a forum for lawyers, academics, journalists, and others who advocated for legal reform in China. The site posted commentary and news related to specific legal cases, protections of civil rights, and constitutional issues.
Before its closure, many of the site's contributors had posted essays advocating the release of Cheng Yizhong, editor of the Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis News); Yu Huafeng, deputy editor-in-chief and general manager of Nanfang Dushi Bao; and Li Minying, the paper's former editor. All three journalists were arrested on corruption charges, but their arrests were widely seen by Chinese journalists as a government effort to silence one of China's most aggressive and popular newspapers. Li was sentenced to 12 years in prison, while Yu was sentenced to 11 years. Cheng is still awaiting trial.
Authorities did not offer the Web site operators any explanation for the closure. However, the site was shut down one day before a court in Guangdong held an appeal trial for Li and Yu. (Li's sentence was reduced to six years on appeal, while Yu's was reduced to eight years.) Zhang Xingshui, a lawyer who helped run the site, told the news agency Agence France-Presse, "It's hard to say why they shut us down, but you cannot rule out that it is because of the [newspaper editors'] trials."
JUNE 8, 2004
Posted: July 19, 2004
All video filmmakers
The State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) issued a circular tightening regulations on public broadcasts of digital video productions, according to Xinhua News Agency. The SARFT is the government office responsible for regulating content of the broadcast media.
The new rules require all digital video productions to gain official approval before being broadcast on television, on the Internet, or in public cinemas. The circular states that productions "concerning religion, nationality and sensitive subjects must seek advice and get approval from the local government departments concerned before being broadcast. Those productions whose content is questionable or may cause negative effect on society are forbidden to be broadcast."
To gain official approval, video productions must abide by existing national regulations on permissible content as established by the SARFT.
The new regulations also require all individuals or groups who plan to broadcast a video production overseas to gain approval before doing so. Filmmakers who violate this rule will be banned from producing or broadcasting their work for three years.
JUNE 24, 2004
Posted: July 26, 2004
South China Morning Post
Oriental Daily News
Ta Kung Pao
Officers from Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) raided six newspapers after they reported the name of a witness in a fraud investigation. The ICAC, which obtained search warrants for the raids, said that identifying the woman violated a witness protection law.
The Hong Kong offices of the South China Morning Post, one of the six raided, reported on court proceedings in which the witness was said to be held against her will by the ICAC. The agency also raided the newsrooms of the Oriental Daily News, Sing Tao, The Sun, Apple Daily, and the Ta Kung Pao, according to news reports.
Seven ICAC officers came to the South China Morning Post offices July 24 demanding to interview journalists who had reported on the court proceedings, the newspaper reported. The officers asked the reporters to return to ICAC offices, where they were questioned until late that night, according to the Post report.
The Oriental Daily News reported that 10 ICAC officers searched the desks of its court reporters and seized documents. Officers later searched the offices of The Sun, sister publication of the Daily News. Apple Daily reported that officers searched the paper's offices, as well as the home of one of its reporters. Three officers spent six hours searching the computers and seizing documents at the Sing Tao offices.
The ICAC was established in 1974 as an independent agency to investigate corruption in Hong Kong. In a July 25 statement, the ICAC defended the raids as part of an investigation into violations of the Witness Protection Ordinance. Under the ordinance, identifying a protected witness "without lawful authority or reasonable excuse" is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
AUGUST 24, 2004
Posted: September 1, 2004
Chen Guidi, freelance
Wu Chuntao, freelance
Chen and Wu, who wrote a banned book investigating local corruption and mistreatment of peasants in Anhui Province, went on trial for libel in Fuyang Intermediate People's Court. The proceedings ended on August 28, and a verdict is not expected for another month.
In their book, An Investigation of China's Peasantry (Zhongguo Nongmin Diaocha), husband and wife Chen and Wu described cases of abuse and extortion of farmers at the hands of corrupt officials, including Zhang Xide, former Linquan County Communist Party secretary. The book became an unexpected bestseller in mainland China. The publisher, People's Literature, received a verbal order to stop distributing copies of the book this spring, according to international news reports, but pirated copies of the book continued to sell briskly around the country.
Zhang, meanwhile, sued writers Chen and Wu for damages of around US$24,000. Before the trial began, authorities denied an appeal by the defense to have the trial moved outside Linquan County, according to news reports. Zhang's son is a judge in the courthouse in the city of Fuyang. Though his son did not hear the case, lawyers for Chen and Wu have stated they did not believe that the two writers would receive a fair trial.
Zhang has also sued People's Literature publishing house for libel.
More than 20 local government officials testified in support of Zhang at the four-day trial, which began on August 24, according to the South China Morning Post. Several local farmers testified for Chen and Wu.
Libel cases are an increasingly common way of controlling the press in China. According to Yale professor Chen Zhiwu, who has studied recent libel cases, Chinese courts almost always rule against the media. Damages of $24,000 are higher than average, according to Chen.
Posted: September 27, 2004
Zhanlue Yu Guanli
Chinese government authorities closed the prominent bi-monthly diplomacy journal Zhanlue Yu Guanli (Strategy and Management) after it published an article strongly criticizing the North Korean government and urging a revised strategy in China-North Korea relations, according to international news reports.
Analysts and foreign media initially speculated that the August article, by Tianjin-based economist Wang Zhongwen, reflected a possible shift in Chinese government policy toward North Korea.
Such speculation took a turn, though, when the government clamped down on the journal soon after. The August issue failed to reach many of its subscribers, and the State Press and Publication Administration later ordered the magazine's closure, according to international news reports.
Editors confirmed that authorities had shut down the journal, but have not named the specific article that precipitated the action, according to Reuters and Agence France-Presse.
Zhanlue Yu Guanli has been a forum for Chinese scholars to examine policy issues since its inception in 1993, and has established a reputation for independent commentary.
Last year, the journal lost its required government sponsorship, making it vulnerable to official censure.
China's increasingly diverse media are subject to censorship by the State Press and Publication Administration. Byzantine regulations that restrict the press make it possible for authorities to act against publications that do not adhere to evolving political constraints.
SEPTEMBER 17, 2004
Posted: September 27, 2004
Zhao Yan, New York Times
Zhao, a news assistant at the New York Times Beijing bureau and a former reporter for Beijing-based China Reform magazine, was detained in Shanghai. Zhao's lawyer Mo Shaoping has been unable to contact him, according to international news reports, and authorities have not responded to inquiries by the New York Times about the reason for his arrest.
On September 21, Zhao's family received a notice from the Beijing State Security Bureau accusing Zhao of "providing state secrets to foreigners," according to international news reports. Mo said these allegations could lead to a charge of treason, a crime punishable by execution.
The arrest followed an article in the New York Times revealing Jiang Zemin's plan to retire from the position of chairman of the Central Military Commission. The September 7 article preceded the official announcement of the final transfer of leadership to Hu Jintao on September 19 and cited unnamed sources with ties to leadership.
Zhao's associates have speculated that the journalist is under investigation as the source of the leak.But New York Times foreign editor Susan Chira said that Zhao, who worked as a researcher for the Times and not as a reporter, did not provide any state secrets to the newspaper.
Zhao began working at the New York Times in May after he was forced out of his job as a reporter for China Reform magazine. Police harassed Zhao on multiple occasions this year after he reported aggressively for the Beijing-based magazine on government abuse of peasants across China. In June, police raided Zhao's family home. According to the New York-based organization Human Rights in China, the raid startled Zhao's elderly father and precipitated a decline in his health; he died a few days later. Zhao has also worked as a political activist.
Mo said that Zhao's recent detention may be unrelated to his former work, according to the Los Angeles Times.
NOVEMBER 24, 2004
Posted: November 9, 2004
Shi Tao, freelance
IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
Police from the security bureau of Changsha, Hunan Province, detained freelance journalist Shi near his home in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province. In the days following his arrest, authorities confiscated the journalist's computer and other documents and warned his family to keep quiet about the matter, according to a statement posted online by Shi's brother, Shi Hua.
Shi's family was notified that the journalist was held being in Changsha under suspicion of "leaking state secrets," an extremely serious charge punishable by lengthy imprisonment or death. The charge also makes it very difficult for a defense lawyer to meet with Shi because of the secrecy with which the government treats this type of case. Authorities did not tell his family exactly what brought about the charge.
Until May, Shi was a journalist for the daily Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Trade News), which is based in Changsha. Shi has also written essays for overseas Internet forums, including Minzhu Luntan (Democracy Forum). In an essay he posted in April titled "The Most Disgusting Day," Shi criticized the Chinese government for the March 28 detention of Ding Zilin, an activist for the Tiananmen Mothers group whose 17-year-old son was killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
According to CPJ research, China is the world's leading jailer of journalists, with 42 behind bars.
DECEMBER 3, 2004
Posted: March 28, 2005
Zheng Yichun, Freelance
IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
Zheng Yichun, a prolific Internet writer and poet, was imprisoned in Yingkou on December 3, 2004, state media reported several weeks later.
Yingkou Ribao (Yingkou Daily News) reported on February 24 that authorities in Yingkou, in Liaoning Province, had officially arrested Zheng on suspicion of inciting subversion. Zheng's family was warned not to publicize his arrest, and was silent before state news reported it.
Zheng was a regular contributor to overseas online news sites including Dajiyuan (Epoch Times), which is connected to the Falun Gong spiritual movement. He has been harshly critical of the Communist Party. In one of his most recent essays on November 25, he blasted the limited news coverage available to Chinese citizens through the party-run broadcast and print media.
DECEMBER 13, 2004
Posted: December 14, 2004
Liu Xiaobo, freelance
Yu Jie, freelance
Liu and Yu, two prominent writers and defenders of imprisoned journalists in China, were detained and released the next morning after being warned to stop writing reports critical of the Chinese government.
Officers from the Beijing National Security Bureau took Liu and his wife, Liu Xia, from their home in Beijing in the late afternoon of December 13, according to the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN. Security police arrived at the house of Yu shortly thereafter.
The two writers were detained on suspicion of "endangering state security."
Released On December 14, Yu told Reuters that police appeared to be preparing a case against him. "They said my essays attacked the Communist Party, the government, and the leadership and seriously violated the constitution," Yu told Reuters.
Police asked Yu to sign and fingerprint copies of his articles printed from the Internet and released him only after copying all documents from his computer, according to international news reports.
Yu and Liu are founding members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), which advocates for the release of imprisoned writers, poets, and journalists in China.
Yu is a prominent writer whose fiction, social criticism, and political commentary have been banned in China. He was one of six intellectuals who recently drafted a proposal that Mao's corpse be removed from the mausoleum in Tiananmen Square.
Liu, president of ICPC, is a leading activist and writer who was imprisoned in the 1990s after he was accused of serving as an organizer in the democracy movement of 1989. He recently posted articles online advocating for the release of imprisoned poet and journalist Shi Tao. Liu was also an outspoken defender of Internet dissident Du Daobin, who was released from prison earlier this year.
The detention of Yu and Liu follows a pattern of harassment of intellectuals and journalists in China that has intensified since President Hu Jintao consolidated his leadership in the Communist Party by assuming command of the military in September.
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