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Shanwei authorities in China launch unwarranted accusations against Hong Kong media

Villagers carry banners which read
Villagers carry banners which read "Plead the central government to help Wukan" (in red) villagers don't believe Lin Zuluan took bribes" during a protest in Wukan, China's Guangdong province, 22 June 2016

REUTERS/James Pomfret

This statement was originally published on hkja.org.hk on 22 June 2016.

After Lin Zuluan, the Communist Party secretary and village committee chief of Wukan village, was taken away by local authorities and villagers decided to protest and petition against this action, large numbers of Hong Kong news organisations sent journalists for on-site reporting. But the propaganda authorities at the Shanwei City People's Government have issued extremely serious accusations, saying Hong Kong journalists have engaged in 'instigation, plotting and directing' of events. The authorities have also threatened to 'take measures according to law'. The Independent Commentators Association and the Hong Kong Journalists Association express shock over these accusations. We believe this is a way for the authorities of using a legal pretext for clearing the protest. This seriously harms press freedom and the public's right to know.

The Shanwei authorities have issued what we believe are unwarranted accusations. The objects of their accusations are unclear. They have named 'the Apple Daily newspaper, Initium Media, etc'. But what are the other organisations that have been included? What does the 'etc' refer to? The safety of journalists is already in question. At the moment, large numbers of journalists have left the village. We believe the accusations have had the intended effect of clearing the village of journalists.

When Hong Kong journalists have reported on these kinds of local incidents in the past, we have never heard of Hong Kong journalists engaging in 'instigation, plotting and directing' of events. Instead, when Hong Kong media report the truth, it has often helped the central authorities to investigate officials who hide the truth. This time, the serious accusations made by the Shanwei authorities is a sign that press freedom in mainland China has suffered a serious setback.

We must point that the news in Wukan village has many elements of interest to general readers and audiences, including: a hero resisting authority, accusations of bribery and large-scale petitions. When Hong Kong media sends reporters to cover the story, there is no other motive. Not only is there is no 'instigation, plotting and directing' of events, there is no financial benefit. When mainland authorities make these serious accusations, it limits media freedom. It demonstrates that mainland officials do not understand the goals of Hong Kong media. Their actions harm the freedom of journalists to report, as well as the public's right to know.

We solemnly demand that Shanwei authorities face up to the problems outlined above, to make legal and reasonable adjustments and to immediately stop interfering with the lawful reporting activities of journalists.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club, Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Journalists Association
The Independent Commentators Association

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