The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the evident crackdown on Internet expression and print journalism in the weeks leading up to and following the final transfer of leadership to Your Excellency on September 19.
Within a period of less than two months, CPJ has documented the shuttering of prominent diplomacy magazine Zhanlue Yu Guanli (Strategy and Management), the arrest of journalist Zhao Yan, and the closing of the widely used Web forum Yitahutu. In September, Kong Youping, an Internet essayist who has been in detention since December 2003, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, according to the human rights organization Human Rights in China (HRIC). And CPJ is investigating the harsh sentencing in September of another writer, Huang Jinqiu, on charges of subversion.
Here are details of the cases of concern:
- In August, government authorities closed the prominent bi-monthly diplomacy journal Zhanlue Yu Guanli after it published an article strongly criticizing the North Korean government and urging a revised strategy in China-North Korea relations. The magazine, known for publishing trenchant commentary on political affairs, has not reopened.
- On September 13, the Beijing Communications Administration issued notice that Yitahutu, an influential and popular web forum, had been closed. A Beijing University student founded Yitahutu in 1999 as a bulletin board for students, according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. It became a forum for the discussion of politically sensitive topics including human rights, corruption, and international relations–one used not only by faculty and students but by citizens nationwide. Its non-hierarchical editorial structure meant that users could vote on which discussion threads would be displayed on the site’s front page, and that no single editor could be held responsible for the content. Several prominent scholars and lawyers in China, including Beijing University professor He Weifang, have written letters to protest the government’s actions against the site.
- On September 16, Shenyang Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Kong Youping, an essayist and poet, to 15 years in prison, according to HRIC. Kong was arrested in Anshan, Liaoning Province on December 13, 2003. He had written articles online that supported democratic reforms and called on authorities to re-assess the democracy demonstrations of 1989.
His essays included an appeal to Chinese democracy activists that stated, “In order to work well for democracy, we need a well-organized, powerful and effective organization. Otherwise, a mainland democracy movement will accomplish nothing.”
Kong was also involved in labor organizing, and in 1998 served time in prison for joining the China Democracy Party, an opposition party.
HRIC reports that Kong’s associate, Ning Xianhua, was indicted under similar charges–which have not been made public–and on September 16, Shenyang Intermediate People’s court sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
- On September 17, authorities in Shanghai detained Zhao Yan, a news assistant for the Beijing bureau of The New York Times and a former reporter for China Reform magazine. On September 21, authorities informed Zhao’s family that the journalist was being held under suspicion of “providing state secrets to foreigners.”
Zhao’s arrest followed a September 7 story in The New York Times revealing that Jiang Zemin was set to hand over the position of chairman of the Central Military Commission to Your Excellency, in a final transfer of power. The article cited unnamed sources with ties to leadership. Although New York Times Foreign Editor Susan Chira has stated categorically that Zhao was not involved in the reporting of the story, Zhao became increasingly anxious that authorities associated him with the piece in the days before his arrest, according to HRIC. The human rights organization has reported that Zhao told his friends that authorities had contacted him twice within a matter of days.
Before working at The New York Times in May, Zhao had worked as a reporter on farmers’ issues across China, and as an activist and advocate for peasants facing abuse at the hands of corrupt officials.
Zhao’s lawyer Mo Shaoping has been unable to contact him in the weeks since his arrest.
- CPJ is investigating the lengthy prison sentence given to Huang Jinqiu, a columnist for the U.S.-based dissident Chinese news site Boxun News, to determine whether the punishment was related to his work as a journalist. On September 27, Changzhou Intermediate People’s Court, sentenced Huang to 12 years in prison on charges of “subversion of state power.”
Huang, 30, worked as a writer and editor in his native Shandong Province as well as in Guangdong Province before leaving China in 2000 to study journalism at the Central Academy of Art in Malaysia. While he was overseas, Huang began writing political commentary for the Boxun news site under the pen name “Qing Shuijun.” He also wrote articles on arts and entertainment under the name “Huang Jin.” Huang’s writings reportedly caught the attention of the government in 2001 and Huang told a friend that authorities had contacted his family to warn them about his writing.
In January 2003, Huang wrote in his online column that he intended to form a new opposition party, the China Patriot Democracy Party (CPDP). When he returned to China in August 2003, he eluded public security agents just long enough to visit his family in Shandong Province. In the last article he posted on Boxun, titled “Me and My Public Security Friends,” Huang described being followed and harassed by public security agents.
Authorities arrested Huang on September 13, 2003, in Jiangsu Province. Huang’s family was not officially notified of his arrest until January 2004. Huang plans to appeal his sentence.
The sum of these actions constitutes an assault on the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution.
Your Excellency, you have recently called for the media to take a more active watchdog role in society, and not simply to pander to government officials. In an October 4 speech in Beijing, you urged local authorities to “accept voluntarily the supervision of the people in order to ensure that the rights entrusted by the people are genuinely used for the benefit of the people.” We urge you to live up to the high standards you have set for local officials by accepting Chinese citizens’ supervision of their government in the form of online discussion and criticism, journalistic investigation, and commentary in newspapers and magazines.
As an independent organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ appeals to you to ensure that no person remains imprisoned for the peaceful expression of an opinion, and that forums for that expression are allowed to exist without interference.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.