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IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin - July 2010

(IFJ/IFEX) - July, 2010. In this bulletin:

1. Media Blackout Envelopes First Anniversary of Xinjiang Unrest
2. Attack on Journalist Who Exposed Genetic Mutations in Crops
3. Editors Detained, Beaten and Interrogated in Chengdu
4. IFJ Condemns Sentence of Sichuan Writer After Failed Appeal
5. Journalist Fined, Demoted for Publicising Ban
6. Ban on Publishing Improved Salaries
7. Correspondent Detained for Photographing Strike Action
8. Police Investigation of Journalists Prompts Group Action
9. New Civil Law Encourages Self-Censorship

1. Media Blackout Envelopes First Anniversary of Xinjiang Unrest

One year on from the ethnic minority unrest in Xinjiang, orders that there be no independent reporting about Xinjiang remain in place. The only exception is reporting by the state-owned Xinhua News Agency. "The July unrest is one of the taboos of China. All media workers understood they could not write a word other than a report from Xinhua," a Mainland journalist said. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region government announced on May 14 that all internet access would be restored across the region, almost 12 months after the 2009 unrest. However, the regional government tightened telecommunication security systems and legislated to curb any messages distributed online that could be perceived as acts of separatism or "sabotage of society". The IFJ condemns the ongoing restrictions and calls for the regional government to reverse all bans.

2. Attack on Journalist Who Exposed Genetic Mutations in Crops

On June 24, Fang Xuen Chang, scientific editor of the Beijing-based Caijing Magazine, was beaten over the head with an iron rod by two unidentified assailants, after he left work. Fang's head and back were seriously injured in the attack, which occurred near his home, according to Phoenix Satellite TV. Reports said Fang claimed to have no knowledge of why he was attacked. However, Fang, who has focused on health issues in his reporting, recalled that his latest critical news report was related to genetic mutations found in crops grown in China. The IFJ urges China's authorities to promptly investigate the assault of Fang and ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice quickly, upholding promises made by China's leaders to ensure the rights of journalists to report freely.

3. Editors Detained, Beaten and Interrogated in Chengdu

Goyon and Thupten Gedun, editors of the magazines Tibet and Purgyal Kyi Namshey (Soul of Ancient Kings) and members of PEN in Tibet, were detained by police in Chengdu for several hours on June 5. According to the Tibet Post, the pair, along with a friend, were stopped by 15 police officers using tear gas. The report said the men were detained at a police station and pressed down onto the floor. Goyon and Thupten told the Tibet Post that they did not know why they were detained. They were interrogated for several hours, and asked about their political stance. The report said they were assaulted and a policeman pointed his gun at their heads. They were released the next day without explanation. The IFJ urges the authorities in Chengdu to investigate the police personnel involved and disclose the results of the investigation to the public.

4. IFJ Condemns Sentence of Sichuan Writer After Failed Appeal

The IFJ condemned the Chengdu Intermediate Court after it upheld a five-year jail sentence for writer Tan Zuoren on June 9. Tan had appealed the sentence, handed down in February, on charges of inciting subversion of state power after he had written articles about the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and also accepted interviews with foreign media. The conviction includes a three-year suspension of political rights. Several Hong Kong and foreign journalists were not allowed to take photos outside the court building. No media outlets have reported on Tan's case, or details of the Sichuan earthquake, after the Central Propaganda Department issued several orders in 2009.

5. Journalist Fined, Demoted for Publicising Ban

The IFJ was disappointed to learn that a journalist has been punished by his employer for disclosing a restrictive order issued by China's authorities. Zhang Junyan, of Southern Metropolis Daily, was fined 1500 yuan (about USD 220) after he published the order on his blog. Zhang was also demoted from his position as an intermediate level journalist to a junior level journalist. "It is a secret in China - anyone who releases [the order] might face punishment," another journalist from Southern Metropolis said. The relevant message in Zhang's blog has since been deleted.

6. Ban on Publishing Improved Salaries

A non-publicaton order was issued by the Central Propaganda Department on June 9 after salaries at Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group were raised a second time. Foxconn raised salaries of Mainland front-line employees after facing allegations that 12 employees committed suicide due to inhumane working conditions, including extremely long working hours and minimal wages. After the order was issued, a series of labour strikes at Toyota Motor Company in Guangzhou and Mitsumi Electronic Company in Tianjin went unreported, with no publication in newspapers or online.

7. Correspondent Detained for Photographing Strike Action

Liu Hongqing, Beijing-based correspondent of Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, was interrupted by Tianjin police on July 2 while he was taking photos of a labour strike at Mitsumi Electronic Company in Tianjin. The newspaper's deputy executive editor-in-chief, Kevin Chun-To Lau, told the IFJ that Liu was interrupted by a plain-clothes officer who alleged the journalist was taking photos beyond a cordon line. The police officer then detained Liu for several hours in a police station, but he was released later and was not asked to delete any images.

8. Police Investigation of Journalists Prompts Group Action

On June 25, three journalists from the Chongqing Morning Post were detained in Chongqing and interrogated by police for allegedly posting "unacceptable content" on an online social chat room. Liao Yi, Chen Songbo and Qiu Jinyi first came under investigation by local police after they posted some messages about a hotel that was shut down by the local government on June 20. A journalist informed the IFJ that the trio had stated that the hotel's closure was due to illegal acts of prostitution on the premises, and the journalists were investigating the role of hotel shareholders in the alleged activities. The so-called "unacceptable content" message has since been deleted from the chat room. After the detention and interrogation on June 25, Chen and Qiu were allowed to leave. But Liao is reported to be still under investigation. However, the Chongqing Morning Post said on June 24 that no media workers had been detained. A group of media workers and scholars has denounced the newspaper's statement, saying that the newspaper disrespected journalists by using threatening words in an attempt to stop other media reporting on the case. The group called on people to boycott the paper. Authorities responded by issuing a restrictive order on June 30 to prevent publicity about the group's action.

9. New Civil Law Encourages Self-Censorship

A law came into effect on July 1 that allows anyone the right to request that internet service providers (ISPs) delete messages, or shut down or disconnect internet services if messages are deemed to breach privacy or damage an individual's reputation. The Tort Liability Law of the People's Republic of China states in section 36 that ISPs could bear a civil liability if they do not take action to minimise the damage to a complainant after they receive a request. An editor of a forum section of a popular website in China told the IFJ that the law encourages online editors to self-censor by deleting messages as soon as they receive a complaint. "It is hard to maintain a balance between freedom of expression and protection of privacy when the case involves the public interest," the editor said. "Privacy is important but public surveillance power is also important if the society is ruled by an arbitrary government." The IFJ urges authorities to use the law with caution and set down a protocol within the industry in order to allow journalists, editors and ISPs to refuse requests to remove online content if it is in the public interest.

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