IPFA 2005 – Shi Tao

International Press Freedom Awards

Imprisoned in China

Shi Tao is serving a 10-year sentence in China on charges of “leaking state secrets abroad.” Shi worked as an editor for Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Trade News), a newspaper in the city of Changsha, in Hunan Province. He also wrote essays calling for political reform that were posted on overseas news Web sites that are banned in China.

He was arrested in November 2004 for posting notes from a directive issued by China’s Propaganda Department that instructed the media how to cover the 15th anniversary of the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Shi’s appeal was rejected in June. His mother has filed for a review of the appeal, charging “serious procedural defects.”

Shi’s imprisonment highlights the Chinese government’s intense efforts to control the Internet, the only alternative to China’s officially sanctioned print and broadcast media. The government monitors Internet content, blocks Web sites, requires bloggers to register their identities, and solicits the help of companies doing business in China. In this case, the U.S. Internet giant Yahoo helped authorities identify Shi through his e-mail account.

Half of the 42 journalists imprisoned in China at year’s end in 2004 were jailed for work distributed on the Internet. Many had written for Chinese-language Web sites hosted overseas.

Read his e-mail describing the Chinese government’s directions

Read his essay, “Helping, Complying, Informing.”

Read his essay, “Flies and Tigers, Fish and Bicycles.”

Below is a translated transcript of the e-mail Shi Tao distributed describing the Chinese government’s directions on Tiananmen Square anniversary coverage:

Excerpts from Document Eleven issued by the General Offices of the Communist Party of China and the State Council

Provided by 198964

On April 20, propaganda departments in China distributed to news organizations at various levels a Document 11 issued by the offices of the Communist Party of China and by the offices of the State Council. The content of the document was “A notice concerning the work for maintaining stability”. An extract is as follows:

1: An analysis on the current situation:

(1) This year will see the 15th anniversary of the “June 4th event,” and overseas pro-democracy activists have been busy, and are preparing to commemorate the day by adopting very intrusive activities, and preparing to infiltrate China

(2) On the problem of liberalism, its main tenet is to deny the leadership of the Communist Party and the socialist system, and carry on what is known as studying the people; and therefore some antagonistic forces are politicizing criminal cases

(3) Evil “Falun Gong” members are carrying out damaging activities

(4) Various kinds of harmful information are being spread on the Internet.

(5) Mass events have become prominent, such as those that have resulted from resettlement after demolition or relocation of residential housing, and appeals for help from higher authorities

(6) Overseas antagonistic forces are trying to draw young people and teenagers through such channels as religion (printed matter and Internet), or developing academic activities and assistantships to study in schools, and engaging in illegal activities

(7) The Hong Kong problem.

The key points above are about the “June 4th event,” “Falun Gong” and about “mass events.”

2. Departments at various levels should take widespread preventive measures on the following:

(1) Resolutely stop pro-democratic activities from infiltrating the country
(2) Take strict precautions against all kinds of activities (by this they mean outlawed ones)
(3) Take strict precautions against hostile elements who use the Internet to organize activities
(4) Take strict precautions against mass events taking place
(5) Take strict precautions against the “Falun Gong” evil cult organization sabotaging events
(6) Take strict precautions for the safety of key departments and personnel
(7) Take strict precautions against certain factors that would have adverse influences on stability and unity

Five crucial jobs that must be seriously tackled:

(1) To adhere to correct theories and sense of responsibility
(2) To thoroughly strengthen intelligence information so as to be aware of any activities
(3) To preserve in influencing public opinion in the right way, effectively prevent sabotage by overseas antagonist elements; never say any thing that is not in line with the policies of the central government
(4) Stress the key points, and effectively carry out preventive controls against them
(5) Reduce the number of petitions to higher authorities from the masses

(Also monitor contacts between overseas pro-democratic activists and editors and reporters of mainland media. Report immediately once such contacts are discovered. )

(Originally published on
Democracy Info 2004.4.20)

Helping, Complying, Informing
Published by Democracy Forum Web site on May 23, 2001

By Shi Tao
Translated by Henry Sanderson

China’s Central TV station broadcast a commercial that was illegal and had serious political problems. When a reporter from the Jiawang Television Station, Xuezhou City, Jiangsu Province, discovered this he reported it immediately to the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) and sought a correction. And in the end CCTV was ordered to stop broadcasting its illegal commercial immediately.

Reason tells us this is a good thing. All business must exert a measure of self-control, consciously accepting society’s limits, and CCTV is no exception. This is an expression of society’s responsibility, and can also be considered a help to the government; the government has often encouraged the news media to “assist and not create trouble.”

Another situation is simply compliance. Writers are afraid to offend the government, and instead follow the proverb “Don’t beat tigers, only beat flies.” They write inoffensive articles, taking up the American concept of “lifestyle services”–detailing for example the way to smoke a cigar. In this manner of self-protection, media companies are able to go on existing, while following a principle of “not assisting and not creating trouble.”

Most frightening are the accomplices of the government. Today the competition between newspapers and other media is fierce to the point of a life and death struggle. In these conditions, people light fires to get the upper hand, desperately giving their help to the government. Informers emerge who participate in the restriction of the media by naming instances of “forbidden speech.” These accomplices clamp down on press freedom, and freedom of speech. They are more rigorous, cruel and efficient than the Propaganda Department itself, because they are the heads of news departments and belong to the “intellectual elite.” For their own purposes they raise their voices to exert control over the very nourishment of the intellectuals, while specifically studying all the government’s restrictions on the media. With a magnifying glass, they seek “incriminating” evidence from their rivals. They wait to find something valuable, and then, like rats, they immediately report it to all levels of the Propaganda Department. When their competitors have received criticism, and a warning from the police, or their publishing title is revoked for restructuring or a “large-scale reorganization,” the true colors of the informers are revealed, and they hold banquets to celebrate their success.

In every large city in China, each member of the media is walking on ice because of these accomplices, and lives in fear. Because this informer could be your classmate, colleague, fellow professional, even your drinking buddy or your Mahjong friend – or it could be that person with whom you spent the whole night talking excitedly about democracy and freedom in a hostel that year. For they live in the same sphere as you. Everybody tacitly understands this, and just tries hard to succeed in a private darkness.

Not long ago, a group of journalists met at a dinner party. Everyone freely discussed the politics of the time, offering their thoughts and ideas. During the evening one journalist from Shaanxi, without thinking, brought up rumor that had spread on the Internet concerning General Secretary Jiang Zemin and the singer Song Zuying. The result was that one journalist from Beijing who had been sent there reported the joke internally. The Shaanxi journalist subsequently lost his job. And every journalist who heard this felt an icy chill.