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8 May 2014

China: Detention of journalist for leaking state secrets a ‘smokescreen’

The Chinese authorities are using trumped-up charges to target a prominent journalist who has been detained for disclosing state secrets, said Amnesty International.

Gao Yu, 70, is accused of sharing a ‘secret’ document with editors of a foreign website in August last year, Chinese state media reported on Thursday.

“Gao is the latest victim of China’s vaguely worded and arbitrary state secret laws which the authorities repeatedly use as a smokescreen to target activists,” said Anu Kultalahti, China Researcher at Amnesty International.

Gao is an outspoken campaigner for victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. The past week has seen several prominent activists arrested ahead of the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on 4 June.

“The timing of Gao’s detention is highly dubious and raises serious questions as to the authorities’ true motives,” said Kultalahti.

Gao’s friends became concerned for her whereabouts when she failed to turn up to an event to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown. State media have since confirmed that she was detained on 24 April.

According to media reports, Gao is accused of sharing a Communist Party ideological paper known as Document No. 9. Freedom of the press and freedom of thought all come under severe attack in the paper.

“The information contained in Document No. 9 in no way merits being classified as a state secret. If Gao is being held for sharing this document she must be immediately released,” said Kultalahti.

Son missing

On Thursday morning, China’s state television, CCTV, broadcast a confession from Gao, with her face blurred out.

Her son, Zhao Meng, has not been heard from since 24 April and may be being held as leverage against his mother.

“The TV confession proves nothing, and is likely to have been made under duress. Such a confession negates any chance of a fair trial,” said Kultalahti.

China’s vaguely worded state secret laws should be revised to include a clear and concise definition of state secrets, to ensure that punishment is only levied for actual harm to a legitimate national security interest and to eliminate retroactive classification of information. These laws have too often been used to punish activists for the legitimate exercise of their rights.


As part of the Amnesty International’s Letter Writing Marathon this past December, AIUSA featured Shi Tao as one of the cases in its Write-a-thon. The AIUSA office in DC acted as the hub to collect solidarity cards for Shi Tao. Before Christmas, the office collected and sent 444 solidarity cards to Shi Tao. The cards kept coming after the holidays. Another 520 cards were collected. Per the advice from one of the AI research staff, 50 cards will be sent to the AI office in Hong Kong in order to get forwarded to Shi Tao’s mother. The rest of them will be sent to Shi Tao along with a small batch of cards (total count TBD – the last I heard we got 52) collected from the Chinese New Year action that ended in February. All in all, AIUSA collected over 1,000 solidarity cards for Shi Tao from December 2009 to February 2010.

All the cards are being sent to a prison address. Replies from prisoners are rare. I had the fortune to receive a response from a prisoner in Turkey couple of years ago. It is a well-known fact that prisoners in China do not receive all the mail sent to them. But we also heard that some mailings have resulted in improvement in the treatment of prisoners. I hope the massive packages of cards will deliver something positive to Shi Tao in the Year of Tiger.

It’s been difficult to keep up with thousands of media reports published this week about the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Many new videos were created as well. Here is a sample of them.

Zeng Jinyan, the wife of imprisoned activist Hu Jia, was prevented from leaving her home this week. She did not have any planned activity for the Tiananmen anniversary. She was only going to go to her mother’s birthday celebration and the police forced her and her daughter back into their apartment. She became very upset after that incident. Reuters had a phone interview with her about it:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Read the rest of this entry »


10 February 2008

China: Authorities urged to withdraw rules limiting press freedom

The new rules announced on 6 February, requiring Hong Kong and Macao journalists to obtain prior approval from the authorities before each and every trip to the mainland, is a step backwards compared with the interim arrangement for the Olympics which was promulgated on 30 December 2006 and expired on 17 October 2008.

The requirement for prior official approval allows the Chinese authorities to limit access to the mainland for journalists from media agencies that take a harder line against the government as well as to censor the topics these journalists are going to cover. This new regulation is a structural obstacle that hampers the normal work of Hong Kong and Macao journalists. The control is much tighter than the current media regulation for foreign journalists promulgated on 17 October 2008 as well as the current one for Taiwanese journalists promulgated on 1 November 2008. Both regulations allow multi-entry to China until the permit expires.

China has applied separate regulatory frameworks to foreign journalists and those from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Their treatment was similar during the Olympics and its preparatory period but now varies under current regulations. The current media regulation for Hong Kong and Macao journalists is the tightest of the three.

2009 is a year with many notable anniversaries in China, including the 50th anniversary of the 1959 uprising in Tibet, the 30th anniversary of the “Democracy Wall” movement, and the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen protests. All these anniversaries will draw media attention.

The authorities should remove all unnecessary restrictions so that journalists from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, foreign or domestic, can carry out their profession and report stories in a context in line with provisions of freedom of expression in human rights documents.


On 6 February 2009, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office under the State Council issued the Measures on the Reporting Activities of Hong Kong and Macanese Journalists in Mainland China. Under this regulation, before making any mainland trips, reporters from Hong Kong and Macao have to obtain a press card issued by the state-controlled All-China Journalists Association, through the liaison office of the central government in their localities. These journalists must also obtain prior consent from the interviewed and present to them the above mentioned press cards or resident correspondent press cards.

On 30 December 2006, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office issued temporary measures for Hong Kong and Macanese journalists during the Olympics and its preparation period. Similar to the temporary media regulations for foreign and Taiwanese journalists during that period, this relatively more relaxed regulation allowed reporters from Hong Kong and Macao news agencies to travel to the mainland with a valid multi-entry travel document and conduct interviews as long as they obtained the consent from the interviewed. Despite these media regulations, journalists continued to report harassment while conducting interviews before and during the Olympics.

New York based Committee to Protect Journalists released its Annual Prison Census this week. China once again topped the list with 28 journalists in prison. The rest of the top five jailers are Cuba, Burma, Eritrea, and Uzbekistan among 29 nations that imprison journalists. A significant change in this year’s statistics is that the Internet has surpassed other forms of reporting as the most likely medium to lead to jail time.

Imprisoned journalists by media 2008

In China, 24 out of the 28 imprisoned journalists recorded by CPJ were arrested due to their Internet activities. Among those 28 imprisoned, Amnesty International has issued actions for six of the journalists: Huang Jinqiu, Shi Tao, Yang Tongyan, Yang Maodong, Hu Jia, and Huang Qi.

Related news:

In recent weeks, the protests in Tibet has led to a show down between pro-Tibet and pro-China people when the Olympic torch relay stops in London, Paris and San Francisco were disrupted. Away from the torch relay, similar protests took place in Seattle last week during the Seeds of Compassion gathering where the Dalai Lama was the main speaker, and most significantly at Duke University. In the eyes of a human rights activist, I embrace the fact that the two sides have their opportunity to voice their opinions in public. This kind of public exercise of freedom of expression is not likely to be seen in China.

But the protest at Duke turned sour quickly after Chinese student Grace Wang (Wang Qianyuan) attempted to promote a dialogue between the two sides. The pro-China students accused her of promoting Tibet’s independence which she is definitely not doing. Since the protest, Wang received threatening phone calls and emails (see reporting in Duke’s independent daily newspaper The Chronicle and the blog section of national publication US News). Her parents’ home in China was vandalized. There was also a fake apology letter from someone who pretended to write as her father. As Wang’s personal safety got compromised by Web 2.0 through internet posting of her personal information, the firestorm continues through comments on the two articles of The Chronicle (over 500 submissions for the one published on April 14th and another 300+ of them directed to the April 16th piece) and the additional verbal abuse towards Wang on an online forum in China.

Wang is not the only one being called a traitor these days. Chang Ping, an editor of the Southern Metropolis Weekly in China questioned the reporting of the protests in Lhasa by both western and Chinese media in an essay, titled “Where does the truth about Lhasa come from?” (check out the translated version and the original Chinese version). He pointed out that while many Chinese internet users questioned the objectivity of western media reports on Tibet, they do not question their own media in China. He further raised the danger of state-controlled media:

If the netizens genuinely care about news values, they should not only be exposing the fake reports by the western media and they should also be challenging the control by the Chinese government over news sources and the Chinese media. There is no doubt that the harm from the latter is even worse than the former. When individual media outlets make fake reports about real events, it is easy to correct because just a few meticulous Chinese netizens can do the job. When media control is exercised by the state authorities, the whole world is helpless.

Chang’s essay snowballed into another online debate in China and more name calling ensued. While Wang called for an open dialogue over Tibet and Chang was calling for press freedom, they were both called a traitor. Is it unpatriotic to criticize your country? I see it as the other way around. Only those who care less about the actions of their leaders turn a blind eye and go about business as usual, or the other reason might be that they know the consequences of speaking up are too much to take the risk. Those who raise their voices over the shortcomings of their country are just as patriotic as those who defend their country at all times.

As Beijing based BBC journalist Paul Danahar explained the fallout of reporting on Tibet, he posted the famous quote of the 16th century satirist Pietro Aretino:

I love you, and because I love you, I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies.

Last week’s protests in Tibet heightened attention on AI both from the media and activists. Media is calling for interviews while activists want to take action. It is rather difficult, however, for AI to react immediately on a crisis. AI’s work is always based on credible reports. When information is tightly controlled in places like China, it takes time to verify claims of human rights abuses channeling from various sources. Eventually, several press releases and statements were made public:

Yesterday, an Urgent Action was issued for 15 Tibetan monks that have been detained for starting a peaceful demonstration in Barkhor, Lhasa on March 10. The monks began marching from Sera Monastery to join other monks calling on the Chinese government to ease a “patriotic re-education” campaign which forces them to denounce the Dalai Lama and subjects them to government propaganda. The names and other details of those 15 monks are:

  • Samten, age 17, Lungkar Monastery, Qinghai Province
  • Trulku Tenpa Rigsang, age 26, Lungkar Monastery, Qinghai Province
  • Gelek Pel, age 32, Lungkar Monastery, Qinghai Province
  • Lobsang, age 15, Onpo Monastery, Sichuan Province
  • Lobsang Thukjey, age 19, Onpo Monastery, Sichuan Province
  • Tsultrim Palden, age 20, Onpo Monastery, Sichuan Province
  • Lobsher, age 20, Onpo Monastery, Sichuan Province
  • Phurden, age 22, Onpo Monastery, Sichuan Province
  • Thupdon, age 24, Onpo Monastery, Sichuan Province
  • Lobsang Ngodup, age 29, Onpo Monastery, Sichuan Province
  • Lodoe, age 30, Onpo Monastery, Sichuan Province
  • Thupwang, age 30, Darthang Monastery
  • Pema Garwang, age 30, Darthang Monastery
  • Tsegyam, age 22, Kashi Monastery
  • Soepa, age 30, Mangye Monastery

Photos of the monks are available through the Tibetan Centre on Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), based in Dharamsala, India. In the upcoming days and weeks, credible information will likely be coming from organizations like TCHRD while the Chinese authorities set up a near complete block of information in and out of Tibet. Journalists have not been able to obtain permits to enter Tibet since March 12. Foreign journalists were also barred or removed from areas in Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces where the unrest has spread. Time magazine journalist, Simon Elegant described briefly on such difficulties in his post on The China Blog. More details were recorded by Reporters Without Borders.

While the world was focusing on the peaceful demonstrations of Buddhist monks and civilians and the eventual crackdown by the military in Burma the last few weeks, the 2nd World Press Briefing of the 2008 Beijing Olympics took place on October 11-12 without much attention given outside of China. AI pressed hard on getting out its media kit for Olympics journalists just before the World Press Briefing but it seemed to have not gained much attention either.

Meanwhile, I stumbled upon the Service Guide for Foreign Media Coverage on the Olympics website when I was digging around for the World Press Briefing. The Service Guide came out this past May detailing all the trouble (visa, work permit, custom clearance, driving permit, etc) foreign journalists have to overcome when reporting before and during the Olympics. The whole guide is 270+ pages long including the covers. Do foreign journalists have to go through that many hoops for every Olympics? I have not paid attention to what’s been done for previous Olympic games so it would be interesting to hear directly from journalists about this.

Related news and links:

About me & Disclaimer

I am a volunteer for Amnesty International USA. The opinion expressed on this blog does not represent the positions, strategies or opinions of AIUSA, AI headquarter in UK, or any other organization on planet earth.

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