Why is China so afraid of a free press?

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Man holding white-gloved hand up as he stands in front of large building (© Andy Wong/AP Images)
A soldier in an usher’s uniform stops journalists from getting too close to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in March. (© Andy Wong/AP Images)

China now jails more journalists than any other country in the world.

Of the estimated 250 journalists jailed worldwide, 48 were in China, the most of any country in 2019, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual survey of journalists imprisoned around the world, released December 11.

“The number [of jailed journalists] has steadily increased as President Xi Jinping consolidated political control of the country and instituted ever tighter controls on the media,” said the report. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to tighten “its iron grip on the press,” it continued.

Frequently, the Communist Party of China uses vague criminal charges such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” to selectively prosecute journalists, the report said. China does not enjoy an independent rule of law. “The CCP continued to dominate the judiciary and controlled the appointment of all judges and in certain cases directly dictated the court’s ruling,” according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2018 Human Rights Report, released in March.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide.

Man speaking and gesturing (© Reuters)
Chinese photojournalist Lu Guang, shown here in 2014, was arrested in 2018 by the CCP before being released several months later. (© Reuters)

Politics, according to the survey, was the beat most likely to land journalists in jail, followed by human rights and corruption.

“A crackdown in Xinjiang province — where a million members of Muslim ethnic minorities have been sent to internment camps — has led to the arrests of dozens of journalists,” according to the report.

Not just journalists

In Xinjiang, Uighurs and members of other Muslim ethnic minorities who worked in local publishing and wrote about “politics and legal and demographic developments” likewise have been arrested, according to the report, as have intellectuals, such as Yalqun Rozi, who edited and compiled more than 100 textbooks on Uighur culture.

The Communist Party also has imprisoned the families of journalists who live in China for the reporting done by their relatives outside of China.

The CPJ report comes just one month after Freedom House, a nonprofit that supports freedom and democracy, reported that China is the worst abuser of internet freedom of any country in the world. Both reports expose the Chinese Communist Party’s aggressive censorship.

“In far too many places around the world, journalists are killed, tortured, jailed, and harassed for reporting that exposes the abuses of corrupt regimes,” said Morgan Ortagus, the State Department spokesperson, on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in November.

The United States “calls for an immediate end to all threats, intimidation, and violence against journalists and other media professionals for their work,” she said.


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