Police officers outside a court in Hefei city in Anhui province, China as pictured on August 10, 2012. Journalist Zhou Weilin was arrested in Hefei city in 2020 and sentenced to three years and six months in prison on July 29, 2021. (Reuters/ Aly Song)

Human rights reporter Zhou Weilin sentenced to 3.5 years in Chinese prison

Taipei, August 5, 2021 – Chinese authorities should immediately release reporter Zhou Weilin, and ensure that journalists are able to cover the country’s human rights issues freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On July 29, a court in Feidong county in Anhui province in eastern China sentenced Zhou, a reporter for the Chinese-language human rights news website Weiquanwang, to three years and six months in prison on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” citing his reporting on human rights in articles and Twitter posts, according to his employer, the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia, and a person familiar with the case who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity. According to those reports, the court cited as evidence the fact that he was paid for his reporting, describing it as “foreign funding.”

Zhou was arrested on those same charges on March 12, 2020, by police in Hefei city in Anhui province, and has been detained since then, according to those reports and CPJ research.

“If China is truly proud of its much-criticized human rights record, as it has repeatedly claimed, it should allow journalists like Zhou Weilin to freely report the news,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator in Washington, D.C. “Chinese authorities should immediately release Zhou Weilin and stop trying to prevent journalists, domestic and foreign, from doing their jobs.”

In response to an emailed request for comment from CPJ, Weiquanwang shared an op-ed by the outlet’s commentator Deng Zixing calling for Zhou to be released “immediately and unconditionally.” “Detaining anyone in retaliation for exercising their rights is a violation of the standards of universal human rights,” Zixing wrote.

The Anhui department of justice did not reply to an email from CPJ requesting comment.

Zhou frequently tweeted about labor issues and disability rights, according to CPJ’s review of his Twitter page. According to Radio Free Asia and Weiquanwang, Zhou had previously been arrested and detained five different times between 2011 and 2013 on charges of “fabricating facts to disrupt public order” and “gathering crowds to disrupt public order.”

He was sentenced to one year and six months in prison in February 2014 for “gathering crowds to disrupt public order” for protesting and reporting on the detention of human rights activist Zhang Lin’s daughter Zhang Anni, those reports said. Zhou was released in February 2015 after serving the full sentence, according to the reports.

According to CPJ’s most recent prison census, at least 47 journalists were imprisoned in China as of December 1, 2020, including Zhou, making it the worst jailer of journalists worldwide for the second year in a row.