China sentences Hong Kong publisher, editor

New York, July 26, 2016-The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the convictions and prison sentences by a mainland Chinese court of Wang Jianmin and Guo Zhongxiao, the publisher and editor, respectively, of two Hong Kong magazines, alongside an editorial assistant and the publisher’s wife.

The Nanshan District Court in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, today sentenced Wang Jianmin, publisher of two Chinese-language magazines in Hong Kong, New-Way Monthly and Multiple Face, to five years and three months in prison on charges of operating an illegal business and on bribery and corruption charges in relation to his other business, in the natural gas industry. The court sentenced Guo Zhongxiao, editor of the two magazines, to two years and three months in prison.

Wang and Guo, who have been imprisoned since May 2014, said they would not appeal, the U.S.-government-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia reported. The time they have already served will count against the remainder of their sentence, and Guo is scheduled to be released next month.

Liu Haitao, an editorial assistant at the magazines, was sentenced to two years in jail, suspended for three years. The court sentenced Wang’s wife, Xu Zhongyuan, who helped mail the magazines to the mainland, to one year in prison, suspended for two years. Guo, Liu, and Xu were all convicted of operating an illegal business, according to the South China Morning Post.

The two publications specialized in publishing insider information and speculation about Chinese political elites before authorities detained Wang and Guo and the magazines ceased publishing, according to their websites. In an editorial at the time of their arrest, the 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. CPJ believes the corruption charges against Wang are in retaliation for his activities as a publisher.

Under China’s “one country, two systems,” residents of Hong Kong are entitled to civil liberties, including freedom of speech and of the press, that have traditionally supported a flourishing industry for books on Chinese politics that are banned on the mainland. But Hong Kong’s once-vibrant publishing industry is increasingly under pressure.

“Chinese authorities apparently are not content with tightly controlling information on the mainland–they are trying to restrict what is published in Hong Kong,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Rob Mahoney. “We call on Beijing to stop harassing and jailing journalists like Wang Jianmin and Guo Zhongxiao and to allow citizens free access to any news media.”

Prosecutors said Wang’s company, National Affairs Limited, had made more than 7 million Hong Kong dollars (US$900,000), including 66,000 Chinese yuan ($10,000) in sales from the two magazines in mainland China. Defense lawyers disputed this, saying copies of the magazines were sent to only eight people on the mainland, according to press reports. But at a November 5, 2015, hearing, the three journalists and Wang’s wife pleaded guilty to the charges against them, Hong Kong newspapers reported at the time.

Guo, originally from the mainland, is a Hong Kong resident. Wang holds passports from Hong Kong and the United States. China does not recognize dual nationality.

In the past couple of years, Hong Kong-based publishers and journalists have been detained, journalists have been physically attacked, and self-censorship is on the rise, amid increasing influence from Beijing.

Over the course of the last months of 2015, five employees of Mighty Current, a Hong Kong publishing house that specialized in publishing and selling books about China’s political leaders, went missing. They later reappeared in mainland China, and were televised saying that they had illegally sold books to customers in mainland China. Lam Wing-kee, one of four booksellers subsequently released, told reporters upon returning to Hong Kong that he had confessed under duress. One of the five people to disappear, Gui Minhai, is still missing.

On May 8, 2014, 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 at the time of his detention that Yao believed he was bringing bottles of paint over the border for a friend.