Intolerant of criticism, China pushes journalists into jail for questioning its record on transparency
An impenitent China continues to act harshly against those who dare to ask questions
On Monday, Chinese journalist and blogger Qiu Ziming became the first person to be charged under the country’s 2018 Heroes and Martyrs Protection Act after he questioned the Chinese government’s account of the June 15 Galwan Valley incident. Prosecutors in Nanjing, capital of China’s Jiangsu province, sentenced him to three years in jail for “defaming and ridiculing” the troops killed last year.
On February 20, the 38-year-old intrepid journalist, who earlier worked for The Economic Observer, a weekly Chinese newspaper, had been arrested for questioning the government’s account on PLA soldiers’ death by posting two messages on SinaWeibo.
After maintaining a stoic silence for eight months, Beijing recently declared that four PLA soldiers had been killed and one of its officers was seriously injured in the deadly clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the eastern Ladakh region in June 2020.
In one of his messages on SinaWeibo where the blogger has 2.5 million followers, Qiu said the fatalities could have been higher than those publicly maintained by Beijing. “All four soldiers who died were trying to rescue (the officer). If the rescuers themselves died, then there must have been more who couldn’t be saved,” Qiu had written in his SinaWeibo post.
In contrast, India had promptly admitted that 20 Indian soldiers had died in that faceoff with PLA soldiers. In February, Russian news agency TASS had reported that 45 Chinese soldiers and at least 20 Indian servicemen had been killed during the clash in the Galwan Valley.
The problem for the Chinese authorities was that Qiu Ziming, an investigative journalist, had given them a harsh rap on the knuckles by showing them a mirror on the true nature of casualties.
However, in a police crackdown on bloggers writing about PLA soldiers, Qiu was not alone. At least two more bloggers had been arrested for their posts on SinaWeibo on the same issue. Even as no details about them have emerged, the incident has confirmed that China is the worst place in the world for journalists to function.
In 2020, as per an annual survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Beijing had jailed at least 47 journalists, 10 more than Turkey, where journalists continue to be sent to prison since the 2016 attempted coup.
Cheng Lei, who worked as an anchor for a business show on CGTN, China’s global television channel, was arrested in August 2020 on the flimsy ground of sharing national secrets to foreign countries. Cheng Lei is an Australian national, and as such, Canberra is finding it hard to get her justice.
“Chinese authorities have advised that Cheng was arrested on the suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne in a statement this year on February 2. “We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met in accordance with international norms,” the Australian Foreign Minister added.
More than seven months have passed since Cheng Lei was arrested in China, but the CGTN journalist has not been formally charged, making the human rights issue of an individual contritely worse in the country.
Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old citizen journalist, was arrested last year in May for reporting from Wuhan. She has been sentenced to four years in jail for her video and blog reports from the Wuhan lockdown.
According to The Guardian, among the journalists who have been jailed in China, several are serving long sentences or are being held without charge. Some have not been heard from some time, or are known to be held in horrific conditions, including those arrested for reporting on the Wuhan lockdown.