Citizen journalists Huang Qi (left) , Li Zhaoxiu (right) followed by several plainclothes agents (background), on Sept 5, 2016
Li Zhaoxiu(left)、He Yazhen(right)
Five women citizen journalists reporting for the independent news website 64Tianwang were kidnapped by Chinese police during the G20 summit in the southeastern city of Hangzhou, leaving their families without news of their loved-ones. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for their immediate release and the withdrawal of all charges against them.
The authorities carried out several waves of arrests of dissidents and human rights activists as the G20 leaders were meeting in Hangzhou. They also abducted citizen-journalists, including the five 64Tianwang reporters, who were providing direct or indirect coverage of the summit.
Other journalists such as Li Zhaoxiu and 64Tianwang founder and editor Huang Qi were forced to “take a holiday,” an expression that designates the various methods used by the authorities to restrict movements, including arbitrary detention, temporary internal exile and house arrest.
Yang Xiuqiong, a citizen journalist who covered the arrest of ten “petitioners” (ordinary citizens campaigning about grievances) in a train on the evening of 2 September, has been reported missing by her family and colleagues. She also commented on these arrests for the Radio Free Asia websiteRadio Free Asia website.
The authorities also kidnapped Lin Xiurong (a citizen journalist who reported that Hangzhou’s stadium had been turned into a detention centre for petitioners), Yuan Ying (who went to Beijing to observe a demonstration by some 2,000 petitioners outside the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection), Jiang Chenfen (who had reported being the victim of restrictions on her movements) and He Yazhen.
“We demand that the authorities release these five citizen journalists, who did nothing more than cover situations they observed at first hand, and we demand that they refrain from bringing any charges against them,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“We also draw the attention of the Hangzhou summit’s participants to these courageous citizen journalists, who do not hesitate to put their lives in danger to tell the world about the Chinese people’s constant battles to defend their rights and fundamental freedoms.
“Whenever an international event is held in China – whether the Olympic Games, the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen or the G20 summit, the authorities violate the rights of thousands of people and arrest dozens of citizen journalists, bloggers and online information activists. Beijing must stop organizing these systemic information blackouts.”
When reached by RSF, 64Tianwang editor Huang Qi said he feared for his detained reporters because “in 18 years of activity, no 64Tianwang journalist has ever agreed to sign a confession drafted by the authorities.” In China, detainees are usually punished more severely if they refuse to sign confessions.
On the eve of the G20 summit, RSF urged the participating leaders to end their silence about the decline in justice in China, where forced confessions are increasingly used to justify jailing information activists and all those critical of President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.
RSF previously condemned the Chinese government’s systematic persecution of citizen journalists working for 64Tianwang when one of its women reporters, Yang Dongying, was arrested in the eastern province of Zhejiang on 24 June 2015.
Regarded by the government as subversive, above all because of its coverage of human rights violations, 64Tianwang was the target of a series of cyber-attacks in September 2014. Huang, who was awarded RSF’s Cyber-Freedom Prize in 2004, has served two jail terms, one for posting articles about the Tiananmen Square massacre and one on a charge “possessing state secrets” in connection with his coverage of the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.
Ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, China is one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists and bloggers, with more than 100 detained.