Above all, the political environment deteriorated. In no other country are so many journalists imprisoned.
The restrictions on the press under state and party leader Xi Jinping continue to increase. Above all, the fact that Xi has further expanded his power in the past year has caused China to slip to the penultimate place in the press freedom ranking of “Reporters Without Borders”.
One sees “an unprecedented concentration of power since Mao Zedong,” says Anne Renzenbrink of “Reporters Without Borders”. “It is the political context in particular that has deteriorated when we look at the individual data. And that is mainly due to the fact that Xi Jinping can now continue on his course, with his campaign against journalism, against independent reporting , as he started it ten years ago.”
Around 100 media workers are currently in prison
No country in the world has more journalists in prison than China. More than 100 Chinese media workers are currently being held there because of their work. The allegations are mostly espionage, subversion or provocation of a dispute. The human rights organization Reporters Without Borders describes the conditions in Chinese prisons as sometimes appalling. According to Renzenbrink, more than ten of the imprisoned media workers could die in prison if they are not released immediately.
“We observe that media workers are mistreated or, if they have previous illnesses, that they do not receive certain necessary medical treatments even though they urgently need them,” she says. “Media workers have already died in prison in China because they were denied medical care because of the appalling prison conditions or because they were also mistreated.”
In the Chinese special administrative region of Hong Kong, media professionals continue to feel the consequences of the so-called National Security Law. This was used by the Beijing central government in Hong Kong in 2020 and can criminalize anything that is directed against the Chinese state and party leadership. Since then, numerous journalists have been arrested. The founder of the now closed newspaper Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai, faces life imprisonment. The former editors-in-chief of the news site Stand News, which is also closed, are also on trial.
“Voices of the opposition have almost disappeared”
Yin Bong Lam is a former Stand News employee. He started his own political news site, reNews, a year ago and wants to keep going despite the constant threat of arrest. “As a journalist, I have a duty and a responsibility to give a voice to all those who don’t have a voice at the moment. Yes, that’s why I’m going on,” he says.
“The voices of the opposition have almost disappeared. All you see are news and information provided by the government.” Yin doesn’t think this is a healthy situation. So he decided to start his own news platform. “I’m doing this all on my own and I’d like to at least try to fill the gap that’s been left by the closing of Stand News and Apple Daily.”
Resistance in Hong Kong
Ronson Chan, chairman of the Journalist Association in Hong Kong, has returned to Hong Kong after spending six months studying in Great Britain and intends to stay. He was arrested in September last year and released on bail.
“Of course a lot of my friends in the UK tried to persuade me to stay in the UK and my family feels the same way. They want me to stay in the UK but I still think I had to come back,” he said Chan. “I hope that even if the situation worsens over time, I can stay in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. When it was handed over to China in 1997, the former British colony was promised extensive autonomy and freedoms such as freedom of the press, opinion and assembly for 50 years. Hardly anything of that remains today.