China’s crackdown on press freedom has earned itself a high ranking on the list of countries known to imprison their journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) – the international non-profit specializing in issues related to freedom of information and the press.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), China is now the second-leading country to imprison journalists in its efforts to curb freedom of the press, with Turkey taking the number one position.
Activist and journalist detained
The imprisonment of Chinese journalist Sophia Huang Xueqin has brought light to the current state of press freedom in China, amid ongoing unrest in Hong Kong.
Since October 17, when the #MeToo movement leader and journalist was detained, supporters took to Twitter to voice their concerns regarding her whereabouts. A Twitter account “Free Xueqin” was also created.
Many fear that she is being held in “black jail” – a colloquial term for an unknown location where physical torture takes place. Free Xueqin tweeted in November this year that she may very well be “in an unknown location where serious rights abuses are likely.”
Huang was first detained in Guangzhou in October for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – a seemingly common offense used by Beijing officials to round up activists– after her extended coverage of demonstrations in Hong Kong this year.
According to a CNN report, Huang had intended to study a postgraduate degree in law at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in September this year, but was summoned beforehand by police in Guangzhou. They then reportedly confiscated her passport to stop her from leaving China.
According to CNN, friends of the 30-year-old former investigative reporter for Xinquaibao and the Southern Metropolis Weekly said that she had visited Hong Kong frequently before these events.
Huang’s case has now topped CPJ’s ‘10 Most Urgent’ Press Freedom Cases.
Huang’s #MeToo activism
Huang had become an advocate for the #MeToo movement in Hong Kong after she laid a sexual harassment complaint two years ago while on a business trip with a colleague. After hearing of other female reporters with similar experiences, she spoke out against sexual harassment publicly and founded a social media platform, Anti Sexual Harassment, dedicated to teaching women how to protect themselves.
Huang claimed that while she did not experience any pressure from the government to curb her activism, her relatives feared it would come at the cost of her reputation.
Other recent public detention cases
In August this year, a pro-democracy Hong Kong citizen, Simon Cheng, employed at the British Consulate-General was detained in the border city of Shenzhen. He was detained in China for “solicitation of prostitution”. He, however, says he did nothing regrettable and claims to be tortured by the Chinese police for two weeks. The 29-year-old Hong Konger has since left Hong Kong, seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.
Also in August, a Taiwanese businessman was reported missing after crossing into mainland China. Lee Meng-chu, 43 is being investigated for endangering state security by engaging in criminal activities. However, his family and friends fear he is being detained due to his previous support for the ongoing anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong, something which started in June and is continuing with protestors now demanding full democracy and an inquiry into police actions.
According to the South China Morning Post, he reportedly distributed photos of Chinese paramilitary troops massing equipment along the Hong Kong-China border.
Mayor of Fangliao township, Archer Chen, said that Lee had sent him photos of the troops along the Hong Kong border. Chen’s attempts to reach Lee on his mobile later on the day were not successful. “At first I figured he was out of power or had lost the phone, but after we couldn’t reach him for several days I realized things weren’t so innocent,” said Chen.
Soon after, Taiwan’s ruling party issued a public warning to its citizens against traveling to mainland China and Hong Kong.