Wei Zhili and Ke Chengbing, both editors of labour rights news outlet iLabour.net who were arrested in March in the south-eastern Chinese city of Guangzhou, have been under “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL) since Saturday, April 20, according to their families. This detention system, that is supposed to handle individuals who pose a threat to national security, deprives detainees of their legal rights and is very often associated with torture.
“These journalists are in no way enemies of the state and only did their job by reporting on labour conditions in China”, said Cédric Alviani, the head of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia bureau, who called on the Chinese authorities to “end the repeated violations against press freedom, a constitutional right in China, and immediately release all detained journalists and bloggers.”
Since its enactment in 2013, RSDL has claimed thousands of persons, including many journalists and bloggers, who disappeared for a period of up to six months without access to a lawyer or medical care. Australian blogger Yang Hengjun, Chinese journalists Wang Xiaolu and Zhen Jianghua have all fallen victim to the system. A compilation of first-hand accounts by former detainees of the RSDL system can be found in “The People’s Republic of the Disappeared”, published in 2017.
Wei and Ke were first detained by police on March 20 after their investigation into the life-threatening working conditions of local factories. The online publication’s editor-in-chief, Yang Zhengjun, has also been detained by police since January.
In China, more than 65 journalists and bloggers are currently detained in conditions that pose a threat to their lives. The country fell further down to 177 out of 180 in the 2019 RSF Press Freedom Index.