Lu and Li were finally able to see lawyers yesterday at the detention centre in Dali (in the southwestern province of Yunnan) where they have been held for more than three weeks. Colleagues and relatives were alarmed when they suddenly stopped receiving news from the two researchers on 15 June, after their arrival in Dali.
“Such abduction-style arrests and the charges apparently brought against these two reporters are typical of the government’s crackdown on journalists who produce reports that the Chinese Communist Party regards as harmful,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Instead of hounding all those who provide information of general interest, the authorities should thank these two citizen journalists and use their work to help improve the disastrous human rights situation in China.”
Lu and Li have been researching social unrest and work protests throughout China since 2012, constantly monitoring social networks such as Weibo and QQ and online forums for reports, photos and accounts by citizens who are on strike or who are demonstrating for their rights.
The information they compile is posted on social networks (Weibo and Twitter) and on a news website, Wickedonna.blogspot.com, that has not been updated since 15 June.
Veiled threat to reporting by bloggers
The detention of Lu and Li comes amid an increase in government hostility towards social networks, whose growing impact is feared, and towards the ever more numerous citizen journalists and bloggers.
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) issued a directive to all media on 3 July prohibiting them from publishing information provided by social networks without first verifying its accuracy.
Although it appeared to be no more than a reminder about professional journalistic behaviour, the directive was designed to deter media from using information provided by citizen journalists, bloggers and other activists, information that is often critical of the authorities.
Wang Jing, a citizen journalist working for well-known dissident Huang Qi’s website, 64Tianwang, was sentenced to nearly five years in prison in April for covering a 2014 incident in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in which a woman set fire to herself. A court in the northeastern province of Jilin accused Wang of “causing trouble in cyberspace.”
Meanwhile, a new NGO law that parliament adopted in April gives the authorities extensive powers over civil society organizations and could make it easier for them to justify arrests or NGO closures.
China is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.