China is world's largest prison for journalists: RSF report

The RSF report indicates how Beijing views journalism - not as a tool to provide information to the public to make informed decisions but as an instrument of state propaganda.
A security person watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in Yarkent County in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region on March 21, 2021. At least 127 journalists are currently detained in China, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a leading journalism advocacy group, has said. (AP)
A security person watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in Yarkent County in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region on March 21, 2021. At least 127 journalists are currently detained in China, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a leading journalism advocacy group, has said. (AP)
Updated on Dec 08, 2021 05:29 PM IST
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BySutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

At least 127 journalists are currently detained in China, the “world’s biggest captor of journalists”, where President Xi Jinping has created a “nightmare” of media oppression worthy of the Mao Zedong-era, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a leading journalism advocacy group, has said in a report.

The report quoted RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire as saying that China was a country in the midst of a “frantic race backwards” as Chinese citizens continue to lose press freedom.

Titled “The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China,”, the Paris-based RSF said the report reveals the “…extent of the regime’s campaign of repression against the right to information”.

The report indicates how Beijing views journalism - not as a tool to provide information to the public to make informed decisions but as an instrument of state propaganda.

It also focuses on the deterioration of press freedom in Hong Kong, which was once a model of press freedom but now has an increasing number of journalists arrested in the name of national security.

The 42-page report listed how Chinese authorities used the fight against terrorism as a pretext to detain Uighur journalists reporting on Xinjiang where at least million from minority communities have been detained in high-security camps, said to be “vocational training institutes” by the government.

The RSF report says at least 71 Uighur journalists - more than half of those detained in China - are currently in detention.

“The number of taboo topics keeps rising. Not only those typically deemed “sensitive” - such as Tibet, Taiwan or corruption - are subject to censorship, but also natural disasters, the #MeToo movement or even recognition of health professionals during the Covid-19 crisis,” the report said.

At least ten journalists and online commentators were arrested in 2020 for their reporting on the Covid-19 crisis in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus first emerged in late 2019.

“To this date, two of them, Zhang Zhan and Fang Bin, are still detained”.

For Chinese journalists, the situation is worse.

The report also described a ruling introduced in October 2019 that all Chinese journalists must use a smartphone app called “Study Xi, Strengthen the Country”, which could enable collection of personal data.

“To receive and renew their press cards, journalists will soon have to undergo a 90-hour annual training partly focusing on Xi Jinping’s ‘Thought’. Journalists are already required to download the ‘Study Xi, Strengthen the Country’ propaganda application that can collect their personal data,” the report said.

Foreign journalists too are facing trouble.

“China’s intimidation of foreign reporters, based on surveillance and visa blackmail, forced 18 of them to leave the country in 2020. Gui Minhai, Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei, three foreign journalists of Chinese descent, are now being detained on espionage charges,” RSF said.

Chinese diplomatic missions are also a source of pressure against information freedom in democracies, the RSF said.

Referring to the partial opening up under the previous government, Deloire writes: “President Xi Jinping, in power since 2013, has put a brutal end to this partial opening and restored a media culture worthy of the Maoist era, in which freely accessing information has become a crime and to provide information an even greater crime”.

Democracies, he said, should identify all “…appropriate strategies to dissuade the Beijing regime from pursuing its repressive policies and to support all Chinese citizens who love their country and want to defend the right to information”.

RSF ranks China 177th out of 180 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, just two places above North Korea.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2022