Journalist Rights Continue to Decline in China

China journalist rights safety
Reports argue that the safety and rights of journalists in China have continued to decline. Photo: AFP

Working conditions for foreign correspondents in China worsened last year, with journalists rights declining amid reports of beatings, detainment, and harassment, according to a survey published on Tuesday.

Almost half of more than 100 correspondents were subjected to some form of interference in 2017 while trying to gather information, according to the report by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.

Twenty-three percent said they were physically obstructed from accessing a location and eight percent said they were manhandled or beaten.

BBC reporter Matthew Goddard told the FCCC that unknown individuals tried to smash his camera equipment after he refused to hand over footage as well as “physically punched” him.

The FCCC said the results “provide strong evidence to suggest that, from an already very low baseline, reporting conditions are getting worse”.

Reporting grew more difficult in many areas, but particularly in the vast northwestern region of Xinjiang, the homeland of the Uighurs — a mostly Muslim ethnic minority experiencing Chinese cultural and religious repression.

Seventy-three percent of respondents who travelled to Xinjiang in 2017 were told by officials that reporting was banned or restricted, compared with 42 percent in 2016.

“I was detained in Xinjiang numerous times, in pretty much every city, on the train. I was interrogated for 11 hours and was not permitted to sleep for two nights,” the report cited a journalist from an American news organisation as saying.

Chinese authorities say the country has a basic policy of “opening up to the outside world” including protecting the rights of foreign journalists, who may interview anyone who gives prior consent.

But correspondents reported growing pressure by Chinese officials.

The survey found that authorities stepped up the threat of not renewing journalist visas to try to convince media outlets to write more favourable reports.

Five international news organizations experienced visa difficulties that appeared related to their work. The problems included lengthy delays in visa approval, credentials issued with unusually short validity and outright rejection of accreditations.

Chinese diplomats overseas have also appeared to become more assertive in applying pressure on media headquarters, with 22 percent of respondents reporting pressure on their head offices in 2017, up from 19 percent in the previous survey.

Such activity has included critical public statements made by Chinese ambassadors and embassies – including accusations that reports are “fabricated news” and requests to delete articles.

At a regular press briefing Tuesday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “I very much resent some of the shadowy accusations made in the report.”

She invited those present to indicate whether they agreed with its findings.

When there was no response, Hua said the FCCC report “cannot possibly represent the true viewpoints of China’s 600 or so foreign correspondents”.

China also kidnapped lawyer Yu Wensheng for his repeated calls for constitutional reform.