December 19, 2017

China: citizen-journalist arrested for filming migrant worker evictions in Beijing

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores artist and citizen-journalist Hua Yong's detention for three days for posting videos documenting mass evictions of migrant workers in Beijing – images that the Chinese regime clearly wanted to censor.

The authorities arrested Hua last week and carried on with the evictions although yesterday was International Migrants Day, the day chosen by the United Nations to draw the world's attention to the plight of those who are driven from their homes by war, hunger or climate change.

Hua, 48, began filming the evictions in November when he saw the police driving tens of thousands of migrant workers from their homes on the outskirts of Beijing in freezing temperatures so that their homes could be demolished.

Suspecting that the Chinese media would censor these scenes of destruction, he posted his videos and interviews on YouTube and the Chinese social network WeChat. Feeling threatened, he finally fled to the northeastern city of Tianjin, where he was arrested on 15 December and was released on bail yesterday.

"The citizen-journalist Hua Yong simply posted videos of what anyone who was there could see, and no Chinese law bans you from filming what you see in the street," said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF's East Asia desk. "He is nonetheless now the subject of a criminal investigation. This is unacceptable."

In 2012, this courageous artist marked the anniversary the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre with a piece of performance art in which he punched himself in the face and wrote "1989" on his forehead with the blood from his nose. For this, he was sentenced to 15 months of forced labour.

Under President Xi Jinping, censorship of the media has been tightened and professional journalists have been gagged. The regime is now targeting citizen-journalists, bloggers and Internet users who try to circulate banned content online. Ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index, China is the world's biggest prison for journalists and civil rights activists.