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Twitter to the rescue for American journalists detained in China

Two American correspondents who were detained in China got the word out via Twitter.

Canada’s Globe and Mail Asia correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe used Twitter to spread word of his detention.
Canada’s Globe and Mail Asia correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe used Twitter to spread word of his detention.

The Asia correspondent for Canada’s Globe and Mail Nathan VanderKlippe and Voice of America reporter Ye Bing, who were detained in separate incidents by Chinese police in August managed to alert their employers — and followers — via Twitter about their predicament. While their detentions were brief, they are part of a pattern of harassment of foreign journalists by Chinese authorities.

Kashgar police detained VanderKlippe, the Beijing-based Globe and Mail journalist, for three hours, searched his bag and camera, and confiscated his laptop, the journalist said on Twitter. The journalist’s paper reported that police did not provide him with a reason for his detainment.

VanderKlippe was detained while interviewing residents in the township of Elishku about the security situation of the Uighur community, according to The Globe and Mail. Three police officers and several government officials approached the journalist and demanded that he follow them to a local government office, the report said.

VanderKlippe said on Twitter that after authorities gave him permission to leave, a car with two officers in it followed him. The reporter said that his computer was later returned to him along with a handwritten note, marked with an incorrect date, which read, “On July 24, 2017 at 1:35 Beijing time, [we] confiscated Nathan VanderKlippe’s Apple computer for operation purposes.”

Voice of America reporter Ye Bing's Twitter profile.
Voice of America reporter Ye Bing’s Twitter profile.

The Xinjiang region has been a site of tension in recent years as Chinese authorities tighten controls in the area and criminalise religious activities of the Uighur population. Recently, residents of Elishku protested the arrests of 12 women for praying at a mosque and there were reports of allegations of illegal use of force and extra-judicial killings by Chinese security forces. Journalists covering the region have long been censored and jailed.

In the second incident, Chinese police Police obstructed and detained Voice of America (VOA) reporter Ye Bing while he was attempting to cover the closed trial of human rights activist Wu Gan from outside the Tianjin No.1 Intermediate People’s Court, according to VOA, a US government-funded broadcaster.

Ye tweeted that plainclothes police officers surrounded him and his assistant and held their arms for about 20 minutes to prevent the pair from taking photographs. Police then accused Ye of inciting violence outside the court and took him into custody where they forced the journalist to delete his photographs.

Ye’s phone, laptop, and other belongings were also confiscated, according to VOA. Ye said on Twitter that he and his assistant were released four hours after they were detained, and the journalists were returned their equipment.

The Tianjin police chief said there would be no criminal charges against the reporter and his assistant, according to a VOA article that quoted Ye.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has been on the case for both journalists. “People living inside and outside China have a right to know what is going on in the country, and there is no legal basis for harassing foreign correspondents who interview Chinese citizens,” said CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator Steven Butler. “China needs to stop trying to block coverage of sensitive stories and Chinese police need to stop harassing and blocking journalists who are merely doing their jobs.”

Conditions for the international press in China continue to deteriorate. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China 2016 survey of working conditions for international journalists found that more than half of respondents had been subjected to harassment, violence, or interference while attempting to report in China. Conditions for the local media are even worse, with journalists arrested, sentenced to years in prison, and subject to strict censorship requirements.

Social media curbs

As we know, life is much more difficult for Chinese journalists working within the social media sphere: jail rather than detention. In August journalist Lu Yuyu, who documented domestic protests in China on social media platforms under the moniker “Not News”, was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble”.

Lu Yuyu: Jailed for documenting protests in China.
Lu Yuyu: Jailed for documenting protests in China.

Police detained Lu and Li Dingyu, his personal and professional partner who worked with him documenting protests, in June last year. One of Lu’s lawyers, Wang Zongyue, in September told activists that prison officials had beaten the journalist in jail and that Lu had gone on hunger strike.

Li was released after an April trial on the same charge, although no verdict has been announced in that case, according to the website Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Lu is a former migrant worker from Guizhou Province who began reporting and documenting protests around China in October 2012. Lu and Li documented protests against land expropriation, wage arrears, official corruption, and environmental pollution, verifying photos, videos, and textual accounts from social media, then republishing the information on a variety of social media platforms, including Twitter, Weibo, Blogspot, YouTube and Google Drive.

“Not News” collected a vast record of protests. In 2015 alone, Lu and Li documented more than 30,000 protests of various sorts, according to the Chinese-language website The Chinese government stopped publishing statistics of these kinds of protests after 2007, when more than 100,000 incidents were recorded for that year alone, according to the site.

Closer to home

Macau’s Public Security Police Force at the end of August denied entry to four Hong Kong journalists, who were planning to report on the area’s recovery and rescue operations in the wake of Typhoon Hato. One journalist was from the South China Morning Post, one from the Chinese-language online publication HK01, and two were from the Apple Daily.

Macau immigration authorities briefly detained the reporters at the Outer Harbor border checkpoint with Hong Kong, and then asked the four to sign a notice stating they “posed a risk to the stability of internal security,” HK01 reported.

SCMP photographer Felix Wong was prevented from entering Macau. Photo: SCMP
SCMP photographer Felix Wong was prevented from entering Macau. Photo: SCMP

The Macau Serviços de Polícia Unitários commissioner Ma Io Kun told reporters at a press conference the same day that the denial of entry had nothing to do with the four journalists’ profession, and that the government of Macau fully respects press freedom, according to media reports. When reporters at the press conference asked, Ma refused to explain how the journalists posed a threat to Macau’s security.

The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) and the Hong Kong Press Photographers’ Association (HKPPA) released a joint statement expressing regret over the obstruction. The Macau Portuguese and English Press Association, in a statement on Facebook, said local authorities’ explanation was “incomprehensible and unsatisfactory”.

SCMP photographer Felix Wong has previously been barred from entering Macau, according to Teledifusão de Macau, a local public broadcasting service.

Hong Kong residents are supposed to have free entry into Macau, however, the HKJA and other groups have documented past cases in which journalists have been denied entry for alleged security reasons.

Control widens

Instant-messaging apps, video streaming and other new content platforms in China will face closer scrutiny under new rules issued by the country’s internet regulators that will come into effect from December 1. The Cyberspace Administration of China said messaging apps and other new forms of information dissemination can be used to engage in illegal behaviour and that operators will soon be required to conduct extensive reviews to ensure they aren’t used to spread illegal content. The agency said the new technologies “can be used by criminals to spread illegal information and undertake criminal activity, harming the lawful interests of citizens, legal persons and other organisations”.

In a separate announcement, the regulator introduced new rules governing “internet content managers” – code for online censors – that require them to undergo 40 hours of government training over a period of three years to ensure that they are promoting socialist values.

Canada’s Globe and Mail Asia correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe used Twitter to spread word of his detention.

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