March 18, 2019

Sweden: RSF urges Chinese ambassador to stop harassing media

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns repeated attacks by the Chinese embassy against Swedish journalists and insists that diplomatic missions have no say in the editorial content of media in their host country.

“But why is he so harsh?” This is a question that Swedish journalists keep asking in reference to Chinese ambassador to Sweden, Gui Congyou, who has embarked on a “truth” crusade against the country's media since taking office in August 2017. The ambassador, who developed his career between the Chinese Embassy in Russia and the Department of European-Central Asian Affairs of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, seems to have trouble understanding that in Sweden, a country ranked second in the RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, journalists are not subject to censorship.

On the embassy’s website, the ambassador recently posted a long, unsigned attack against SVT Nyheter, a major Swedish news outlet. The diplomat castigates the site for giving a platform to David Liao, Representative to the Taipei Mission in Sweden, on February 27. Liao published an opinion piece calling support for Taiwanese democracy against Chinese threat. According to Gui Congyou, the article “challenges the one China principle” and  “amounts to serious political provocation.” Beijing is very aggressive in claiming sovereignty over the island of Taiwan, despite it having an independent government since 1949.

“Diplomatic missions have no say in the editorial content of media in their host country,” says Erik Halkjaer, the president of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Sweden. Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF East Asia bureau, considers that these attacks "reveal the unrestrained attitude with which Beijing is now trying to impose its censorship outside its borders."

The attack on SVT Nyheter is indeed not an isolated incident. Since July of 2018, the Chinese Embassy in Stockholm has attacked multiple Swedish news sources, including Dagens Nyheter (DN),  Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå (TT), 8 Sidor, Upsala Nya Tidning, Dagens Samhälle, Nya Wermlands-Tidningen, and Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

The ambassador was particularly harsh towards Swedish journalist Jojje Olsson, author of a book on the Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, who was kidnapped in Thailand in 2015 and is still detained in China with no scheduled sentencing. Last December, he also attacked Swedish journalist and commentator Kurdo Baksi, accusing him of “instigating hatred against China.”

China is the world’s biggest jailers of journalists, with more than 60 currently detained. In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index published by RSF, the country rank stagnates at 176th out of 180.