29 Journalists spend China’s National Journalists’ Day behind bars

New York, November 7, 2007—As China celebrates National Journalists’ Day tomorrow, the Committee to Protect Journalists urges the Chinese government to address the cases of 29 journalists in prison for practicing their profession.

Twenty-three of those journalists have been imprisoned since the first official Journalists’ Day was celebrated in China in 2001, the same year the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded Beijing the 2008 Olympic Games, according to CPJ records.

At least four journalists are due for release before the end of 2008, according to CPJ records and information compiled by the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, a nonprofit human rights organization.

“China has repeatedly failed to meet its Olympic pledges or take meaningful steps to improve press freedom,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “An appropriate way to mark National Journalists’ Day on November 8 would be to grant an early release to four reporters who will finish their sentences in 2008.”

The four reporters are:

  • Hua Di, a Stanford University researcher and U.S. resident, who was charged with revealing state secrets while visiting China in January 1998 after publishing articles about China’s defense system in academic journals.
  • Li Changqing, who is serving a three-year sentence for “deliberately fabricating and spreading alarmist information” after reporting on a fever outbreak in China on the U.S. Web site Boxun News.
  • Zhang Wei, who was arrested in July 2002 for illegally publishing underground newspapers that officials said “misled the public” in Chongqing, central China.
  • Fan Yingshang, who printed 60,000 copies of a magazine and was subsequently charged with profiteering in October 1995.

The Chinese government promised that there would be no restrictions on media reporting “up to and including the Olympic Games,” according to an IOC report on April 3, 2001.

Yet the country remains the world’s leading jailer of journalists, a distinction it has held for eight consecutive years. Censorship of news outlets, along with harassment, attacks, and detention of Chinese journalists, continues to stifle the domestic media.

The situation for international journalists has improved slightly since the implementation of legislation that relaxes restrictions on foreign reporters in January 2007. Yet three cases of assault or physical intimidation of foreign journalists have occurred in the past two months, along with numerous instances of bureaucratic intervention while reporting in public places, according to foreign reporters in Beijing. 

Media workers and sources remain unprotected by the authorities and face possible retribution for cooperating with journalists.

CPJ outlined China’s failure to meet its Olympic promises in a special 2007 report, “Falling Short.” An updated list of imprisoned journalists in China will be released by CPJ in December.