RSF urged US senators to address press freedom during their visit to China
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the bipartisan United States Senate delegation to China to address the dire press freedom situation during their trip to the country, and called on the Congress to step up pressure on the Chinese authorities to obtain the release of jailed journalists, including Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan and Hong Kong publisher Jimmy Lai.
RSF made these recommendations in a recent letter to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Bill Cassidy, Senator Mike Crapo, Senator Maggie Hassan, Senator John Kennedy, and Senator Jon Ossoff, sent ahead of their visit to China that started this Saturday, on October 7th, 2023.
“In recent years, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has imposed a social model based on control of information, while repression against independent journalists has escalated into a full-blown crusade. We urged these U.S. Senators to uphold their commitment to addressing human rights issues with the Chinese authorities, and step up pressure to secure the release of all press freedom defenders jailed in the country.
Although press freedom is enshrined in Article 35 of China’s Constitution, the regime, led by general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping has stepped up its crackdown on journalists in recent years. Among numerous journalists who are currently detained in notorious Chinese prisons is Zhang Zhan, who has been detained since 2020 for reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic in Wuhan, weighs currently only 37 kilograms despite her height of 1.7 metres – half of what she weighed prior to her detention. Huang Xueqin, another independent journalist at high risk was tortured in detention and recently tried for “inciting subversion of state power.”
In Hong Kong, the founder of independent media outlet Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai, faces a possible life sentence under the national security law, with his trial scheduled to start on December 18th. Foreign nationals are also not immune to the long arm of state repression, as demonstrated by the 2015 kidnapping in Thailand of Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, who was later sentenced to 10 years in prison despite serious health concerns.
In addition to imposing severe restrictions on press freedom domestically, the regime has recently attempted to use its influence to disrupt UN activities focused on the situation of human rights in both mainland China and in Hong Kong. Chinese diplomats called for the boycott of a United Nations Human Rights Council side event focused on media freedom in Hong Kong, which took place on September 27 in Geneva and was co-sponsored by the US. This call for a boycott backfired spectacularly, resulting instead in attendance by many ambassadors and some international media.
Ranking 179th out of 180 countries and territories in the 2023 RSF World Press Freedom Index, China is the world's largest captor of journalists and press freedom defenders, with at least 114 currently detained.