Police patrol in Shanghai on November 26, 2023. Chinese authorities charged Chen Pinlin, who published a documentary on anti-COVID restriction protests in late 2023, with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” on February 18, 2024. (AFP/Rebecca Bailey)

Chinese director Chen Pinlin arrested over White Paper protest documentary  

Taipei, February 22, 2024—Chinese authorities must immediately release documentary director Chen Pinlin, drop all legal proceedings, and allow journalists to document demonstrations, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On February 18, Chinese authorities charged Chen, who published a documentary on anti-COVID restriction protests in late 2023, with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to Chinese human rights news websites Minsheng Guancha and Weiquanwang. On January 5, Shanghai police arrested Chen, who published work under the pseudonym Plato, and detained the filmmaker at the Baoshan Detention Center.

“The arrest of Chen demonstrates China’s fear of genuine reporting on its authoritarian practices,” said Iris Hsu, CPJ’s China representative. “Chinese authorities should immediately release and drop all charges against Chen and stop detaining journalists and documentarians who are merely doing their job to cover issues of public concern.”

The protests, also known as the “White Paper Movement,” started when a deadly apartment fire in the northwest region of Xinjiang killed at least 10 people in November 2022, and questions were raised about whether the government’s stringent lockdown measures prevented the victims from escaping.

Chen posted the documentary “Not the Foreign Force” on the first anniversary of the White Paper Movement on YouTube and X, formerly Twitter, in late November 2023, according to those reports. The documentary compiled extensive protest footage, translated social media posts demanding freedom of expression, and reported that some protesters remained detained. Chen’s X account and YouTube channel were deleted within that week.

An officer at the Baoshan Detention Center told CPJ that he could not disclose information about the detainees and redirected CPJ to the public security bureau. CPJ called the Shanghai Public Security Bureau Baoshan Branch for comment, but no one answered.

China was the world’s worst jailer of journalists, according to CPJ’s latest annual prison census, with at least 44 behind bars on December 1, 2023.