Taipei, August 24, 2021 – Chinese authorities should immediately release all people detained for their alleged work with the U.S.-based outlet The Epoch Times, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On April 25, the Beijing Dongcheng People’s Procuratorate indicted 11 people for allegedly sending photos and reporting to The Epoch Times about the government’s COVID-19 restrictions in Beijing, according to the outlet and a person familiar with the case who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing pressure from authorities.
The Epoch Times is a media company affiliated with the spiritual group Falun Gong, and reports critically on the Chinese government, according to its website and CPJ’s review of its reporting.
The outlet’s report identifies the 11 detainees as Falun Gong practitioners. A copy of their indictment, which CPJ reviewed, said they had been charged with “sabotaging law enforcement by using cult organizations.”
If convicted, they could face up to life in prison, according to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.
“China needs to stop trying to prevent its citizens from reporting the news and publishing photographs about its COVID-19 restrictions,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “The 11 people arrested for sending photos and information to The Epoch Times should be released from jail immediately, with all charges dropped.”
The detainees are being held at the Dongcheng District Detention Center, according to the outlet and the person who spoke with CPJ.
Police originally arrested the 11 on July 19, 2020, without issuing any notice to their families, according to that report. CPJ was made aware of their cases recently, after being contacted by the person familiar with them.
The detainees are Xu Na, Li Zongze, Zheng Yujie, Li Lixin, Zheng Yanmei, Deng Jingjing, Zhang Renfei, Liu Qiang, Meng Qingxia, Li Jiaxuan, and Jiao Mengjiao, according to the outlet and the indictment.
In an email from the outlet’s public relations office, The Epoch Times told CPJ that it had received photos submitted by the individuals “as citizens.”
“We are very concerned about their safety,” the email said. “We call on the international community to condemn this violation of press freedom.”
The Epoch Times often publishes photos without bylines, according to CPJ’s review of its website; CPJ was unable to determine which photos were allegedly sent by the detainees.
CPJ contacted the Beijing Public Security Bureau through its official website, but did not receive any reply.
According to CPJ’s most recent prison census, at least 47 journalists were imprisoned in China as of December 1, 2020, making it the worst jailer of journalists worldwide for the second year in a row.