The police arrested Zhen Jianghua in Zhuhai, in the southern province of Guangdong, on 1 September without giving any explanation, and are holding him in an unknown location. They arrested his partner at the same time, but released her six hours later. The couple’s apartment was searched twice, and electronic equipment was removed.
Zhen is a respected activist and journalist who is also known by the pen-name of Guests Zhen. His website, ATGFW.org, is an information media specialized in cyber-security issues topics, that also provides detailed tips on how to bypass online censorship and protect against digital surveillance.
Previously arrested in September 2016, when he was held for several days, he is a founding member of Human Rights Campaign in China, a group that defends civil rights, and recently organized an activity to commemorate Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel peace laureate who died in detention in July.
Offensive against citizen-journalists
“This latest arrest, which is illegal under Chinese law because defence rights have not been respected, is further evidence of the Chinese government’s war against the freedom to inform,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia desk.
“In less than five years, President Xi Jinping has succeeded in bringing the traditional media under control. If allowed to continue, he will have soon also gagged all the citizen-journalists and bloggers who are the last free voices in China.”
In 2016, the authorities targeted 64 Tianwang, an independent news website that won the 2016 RSF Press Freedom Prize. The year began with the trial of Wang Jing, one of the site’s freelance contributors. She was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. It was followed by the arrest of five of the site’s other contributors.
In November, the police arrested the site’s founder, Huang Qi, a well-known journalist who was awarded the RSF Press Freedom Prize in the cyber-dissident category in 2004. He is in very poor health and it is feared that he could die in detention.
Liu Feiyue, the founder of another emblematic website, Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, was arrested ten days before Huang and is now facing a possible life sentence. June of last year saw the arrests of Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu, who covered social unrest and work protests in their blog, Not News, and were awarded the 2016 RSF Press Freedom Prize in the citizen-journalist category. Lu has been sentenced to four years in prison.
Great Firewall reinforced
The limited freedom available to Chinese Internet users is being reduced even further by a ban on anonymous online comments that will take effect on 1 October and the gradual elimination of foreign VPN services.
Under a rule that came into force in June, anyone posting news and information online who is not registered as a professional journalist could potentially be charged with “illegal publishing.” It is an effective way to encourage self-censorship because any social network post that goes viral and annoys the authorities could now lead to a jail sentence.
With just weeks to go to the start of the Communist Party’s 19th Congress on 18 October, President Xi has never been so close to realizing his long-standing dream of creating an Internet “with Chinese characteristics,” that is to say, an Internet under his complete control and entire purged of content contrary to his plans and the line he has imposed.
Ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, China is currently holding more than 100 journalists and cyber-journalists in its prisons.