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Treatment of Chinese journalist challenged after dubious state television confession

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 1 September 2015.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) express condemnation over the arrest and subsequent trial of Chinese journalist Wang Xiaolu and express strong concern over the abuse of power in the treatment of Wang and the continued crack down on press freedom in China.

On August 25, 2015, Wang Xiaolu, a business journalist with Caijing Magazine, one of China's leading financial magazines, was taken into custody for a story published on July 20. The story reported that the Chinese Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) was considering ending interventions aimed at stabilising the stock market. Following the report, CSRC's spokesman, Zhang Xiaoju, denied any alleged suggestions made by the program and accused Wang of being irresponsible for not verifying information before publishing the article.

Following Wang's arrest, he was placed under criminal compulsory measures on August 30. The following day, on August 31, Wang made a televised public apology in a alleged confession on the state broadcaster, CCTV. In the apology, in which Wang looked tired and nervous, he said: "I shouldn't have published the report at such a sensitive time, especially when it could have great adverse impact on the market. I'm regretful of what I have done and am willing to confess my crime. I hope the judicial authorities will give me a chance and handle me leniently."

According to state-owned media outlet Xinhua, Wang was accused of "colluding with others and fabricating and spreading fake information on securities and futures market". The Xinhua report also said that Wang admitted basing his report "on hearsay and his own subjective guesses without conducting due verifications".

The arrest of Wang comes after Chinese authorities clamped down on media reporting of the troubled Chinese stock market. In July, the government issued a "directive" restricting all media to limit coverage of the stock exchange to prevent fluctuations in the market. The directive, which included Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television, advised that reports must be balanced, objective and rational to guide the market. The directive also ordered that all reports strictly use information provided by the local authority.

The HKJA demanded the immediate release of Wang, saying the detention of Wang is illegal and a violation of his personal liberty. Further, HKJA questioned the legality of the confession on CCTV.

The IFJ Asia Pacific Office said "The arrest, detainment and public confession of Wang Xiaolu illustrates a disturbing extension of the authorities' influence on an issue of extreme public importance both socially and economically. The media must be allowed to report objectively and without control on all matters of public significance, including issues pertaining to China's economy. Wang Xiaolu should never have been arrested or detained and the public confession will only work to interfere with any criminal proceedings as has already happened previously."

The nature of forced, televised confessions is an issue of increasing concern to the IFJ. In 2013, Mainland journalist, Chen Yongzhou, gave a confession on CCTV after he allegedly confessed to accepting payments in exchange for publishing fabricated reports about a construction-machinery maker. In 2014, CCTV aired footage of veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu admitting she shared a state secret, a charge which saw her sentenced to seven years in jail in April this year. However, Yu's defence said that she was coerced to give the confession after authorities threatened to arrest her son.

The IFJ said the Chinese authorities' growing propensity to crack down on media reporting not to its liking was clearly intending on fostering a culture of fear and intimidation for media workers.

"The charges of spreading fake news are a ridiculous extension of China's blunt force tactics toward the media. We strongly condemn these charges and the handling of Wang Xiaolu, particularly in light of a confession that appears to have been extricated through force," said the IFJ.

The IFJ calls on the All China Journalists Association and Caijing Magazine to defend the rights of media personnel and demand the immediate release of Xiaolu Wang.

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