Two Hong Kong journalists detained in mainland China

Hong Kong, June 9, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detention in mainland China of two Hong Kong journalists, the latest in a series of indications that the space for media freedom in Hong Kong is shrinking.

Wang Jianmin, publisher of two Chinese-language magazines in Hong Kong, New-Way Monthly and Multiple Face, and Guo Zhongxiao, a journalist for the magazines, were detained by police in the southern city of Shenzhen on May 30 for “operating an illegal publication,” according to news reports.

Hong Kong residents enjoy civil liberties, including the right to freedom of speech and of the press–conditions that supported a flourishing industry for the publication of books and magazines on Chinese politics that are banned on the mainland. However, CPJ research shows that media freedom in Hong Kong is under pressure, with physical attacks on journalists and growing self-censorship amid Beijing’s increasing influence.

Oiwan Lam, founder of Inmedia, an independent media outlet promoting free speech, told CPJ that Wang and Guo were known as politically well-connected journalists who frequently reported insider information and speculation on political affairs in China. In an editorial, Hong Kong- and Taiwan-based newspaper Apple Daily described Wang’s magazines as “close” to the political factions of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin and former Vice-President Zeng Qinghong.

The chairperson of Hong Kong Journalists Association, Sham Yee Lan, told CPJ that the arrest of Wang and Guo is a part of a wider attempt to suppress the freewheeling publishing industry in Hong Kong. Last month, Hong Kong publisher Yao Wentian, who was preparing to release a book critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for “smuggling ordinary goods” to Shenzhen. His family told CPJ that Yao believed he was bringing bottles of paint over the border for a friend.

The Shenzhen Public Security bureau said on May 30 on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, that Wang and Guo were among “several” people arrested on suspicion of operating illegal publications. The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post  on Saturday cited Wang’s lawyer, Chen Youxi, as saying the journalists were detained because they “sold political magazines to two subscribers and to casual buyers on the mainland.” It is not clear if the illegal publications mentioned in the police statement referred to New-Way Monthly and Multiple Face magazines.

“The detention of two Hong Kong journalists and a publisher’s conviction in mainland China in recent months is a troubling development,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director, in New York. “We call on Chinese authorities to immediately release Wang Jianmin and Guo Zhongxiao, because the ‘operation of a publication’ should never result in jail time.”

Guo was born in Hubei Province and is a Hong Kong resident while Wang holds both Hong Kong and U.S. passports, news reports said. But at the time of his detention, Wang was travelling on a China-issued “home return permit,” according to Chen, which means authorities will not afford him protections normally given to a U.S. citizen. China does not recognize dual nationality.

The Independent Commentators Association in Hong Kong released a statement saying that a clampdown on Hong Kong publishers and journalists threatens the public’s right to access a range of political opinions.