After Xi Jinping’s appointment as president, Li Keqiang’s appointment as prime minister and the conclusion of the first annual session of the 12th National People’s Congress on 17 March, Reporters Without Borders calls on China’s new rulers to end the surveillance and censorship of news providers.
Many violations of freedom of information were reported during the month that preceded this once-in-a-decade change of leadership.
Reporters Without Borders notes that Xi Jinping spoke of a “Chinese dream’ in his address to the National People’s Congress on the final day. He said: “The Chinese dream is the dream of the people. We must realize it by closely depending on the people. We must incessantly bring benefits to the people.”
The media freedom organization urges China’s new president to keep his promises by allowing his fellow citizens to enjoy free access to news and information, and to new generation media.
“During the attempts to censor Nanfang Zhoumo’s New Year message, journalists and Internet users demonstrated their ability to take effective action, in both the way their drew attention to the censorship and the way they circumvented it,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Nonetheless, the latest events do not herald any change in policies or methods by the Chinese authorities. On the contrary, they have demonstrated that control of news and information inside the country and abroad continues to be a major priority.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “We are very concerned about both the increase in aggressive behaviour towards the foreign media and the severity with which the police continue to crack down on netizens.”
Mark Stone, a reporter with British 24-hour TV news channel Sky News, and his cameraman were arrested while doing a live report from Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on 15 March. He had obtained permission to do a report from there, but the police accused him of not visibly displaying his accreditation and not having his passport on him.
Stone said the police intervened when he referred to the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in the square, which were crushed with considerable loss of life. Stone and his cameraman were taken to a police station before being released.
A crew with German TV station ARD consisting of reporter Christine Adelhardt, two other German employees and two Chinese employees were pursued and attacked on 27 February by two men in a car who broke the windscreen of their vehicle with a baseball bat.
They had just been filming a report on urbanisation in Da Yan Ge Zhuang, a village in Hebei province. In China, use of land is a source of frequent disputes between residents and local officials, who are often accused of corruption. A witness of the attack said one of the cars involved in the chase belong to the village’s Communist Party secretary.
There was no let up in surveillance and harassment of netizens between the Communist Party’s 18th Congress in December and the sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, held from 5 to 17 March and 3 to 18 March respectively.
Hu Jia, a dissident and blogger who was jailed from 2008 to 2011 and who has been under a form of house arrest since 26 February, was summoned to the Public Security Bureau in the Beijing district of Tongzhou on 14 March on a charge of “inciting public disorder.”
After reporting to the authorities, Hu was insulted and hit during eight hours of interrogation at Zhongchang police station, sustaining injuries to his face. Since then, he has also had lower back pain.
Hu’s interrogators questioned him about the visit that he and other dissidents paid to the home of Liu Xia, the wife of jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, in December. Liu Xia is herself also under house arrest and, to visit her, Hu had to elude the police normally stationed outside her home. Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year jail sentence he received in 2009.
Hu was also interrogated about comments he recently posted online criticizing China’s new leaders. Hu is one of the 100 leading intellectuals who signed an open letter to the National People’s Congress in February calling for Liu Xiaobo’s release.
The police refused to let Hu go to hospital, despite his various injuries and despite his need for regular medical treatment for hepatitis. They told him he would have to remain under house arrest until 17 March, the last day of the National People’s Congress session.
China is one of the countries classified by Reporters Without Borders as “Enemies of the Internet” and is ranked 173rd out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Photo : Feng Li/Getty Images