Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Chinese government’s war against citizen-journalists, whose latest victim is Lu Yuyu, the winner of the 2016 RSF-TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize. He was sentenced last week to four years in prison for documenting China’s growing social unrest on a blog.
A court in Dali, in the southwestern province of Yunnan, imposed the sentence on 3 August after convicting Lu of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a deliberately vague charge used by the regime to silence critics.
“Lu Yuyu committed no crime and should have been given a medal for his extraordinary work of documenting and contextualizing the scarce information about social unrest and labour protests, which was the very essence of citizen-journalism,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau.
“This verdict is the latest episode in a Chinese government crackdown on all those who defend the people’s rights, including the freedom to inform, against the violence of the state apparatus.”
30,000 protests nationwide
What with land seizures, factories going bust and appalling work conditions, China has seen a wave of strikes and protests in recent years that testify to growing social and economic tension. But in this continent-sized country, it is hard for protesters to coordinate or even keep abreast of what is happening in other cities and provinces.
Born in 1979 in Guizhou province and a onetime migrant worker himself, Lu was briefly arrested at a demonstration in 2012 about local government corruption. Thereafter he began compiling an exhaustive picture of social unrest in China, posting the information on a blog he called “Not News” (wickedonna.blogspot.com) and on linked social network accounts.
From 2012 to 2016, Lu and his partner, Li Tingyu, posted information about 30,000 strikes and protests throughout China on their website, for which they were awarded the Reporters Without Borders-TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize in the Citizen-Journalist category in 2016.
Abducted by plainclothesmen
Kidnapped by plainclothes police in Dali on 16 June 2016, Lu and Li were held incommunicado for a week and were denied the services of a lawyer for three weeks in violation of China’s criminal law. It was later reported that Lu was beaten in prison and went on hunger strike in protest.
In theory, Lu can appeal against his conviction but his chances of success are infinitesimal. In China, one person in a thousand is acquitted in a criminal trial and the percentage approaches zero for citizen-journalists.
Lu’s partner Li, who was born in 1991, was tried secretly on 20 April after being forced to recuse her lawyer, but the court did not announce any verdict. After the trial, she was placed under house arrest.
China is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.