Hong Kong, March 18, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Chinese authorities to immediately release three journalists who were arrested almost two weeks ago and remain in jail for their coverage of events in Tiananmen Square.
The three journalists–Wang Jing, Liu Xuehong, and Xing Jian–came to Beijing as part of a group of volunteers for the independent human rights news website 64 Tianwang. They were in the capital to report on the treatment of citizens who were petitioning the government about their grievances, Huang Qi, founder of 64 Tianwang, told CPJ. At the time, high-level meetings between Chinese lawmakers and political advisers were taking place, Huang said.
The journalists were arrested after they published reports on 64 Tianwang on a self-immolation attempt and the defacing of a portrait of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square, the politically sensitive site of the June 4, 1989, crackdown and massacre of student protesters, reports said.
“Perhaps if Chinese authorities would allow the media to give voice to ordinary citizens, they’d find fewer people so desperate to be heard that they are willing to set themselves on fire,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz in New York. “We call on authorities to immediately release Wang Jing, Liu Xuehong, and Xing Jian, and to stop trying to snuff out reports of protests by throwing journalists in jail.”
On March 5, reporter Wang Jing photographed a woman who set herself on fire in the middle of the square, and told Radio Free Asia about how police extinguished the flames and carried away the woman. Beijing police arrested Wang three days later and have held her in Jilin City detention center, according to Huang and media reports. She has been charged with “provoking and stirring trouble,” 64 Tianwang reported.
On March 6, Liu Xuehong and Xing Jian, who is 17 years old, reported that a man had vandalized the portrait of late Chairman Mao Zedong that overlooks the square by splashing dark ink on its lower left-hand corner. The man was also whisked away by police, their reports said.
The two journalists were detained on March 9 and are being held in Beijing, according to Huang and media reports. In mainland China, individuals can be held for up to 37 days without being charged with an offense.
The Beijing Public Security Bureau did not immediately respond to CPJ’s requests for comment.
Police detained Huang on Thursday in Chengdu and questioned him about the journalists’ reports, he told CPJ. He was released the same day. Huang said he had not received any additional details about the three journalists since their arrests and was looking for lawyers for them.
Huang has been harassed and jailed by Chinese authorities in the past. His website was blocked in 2000, which prompted him to move the servers to the United States. Shortly after, he was imprisoned for five years on charges of “subversion,” according to reports. He was again sentenced to three years in prison in July 2008 on a charge of “illegal possession of state secrets” for publishing statements from parents who had lost their children in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, CPJ research shows.