It is never far from my mind that I should perhaps watch what I say on my site about China. When I first arrived in this country little more than a year ago and befriended Mask of China blogger Derrick, I had him instill a bit of fear about who might be watching me. Though he’s since moved to the safer-shores of Hong Kong, I’m still on the Mainland, and as such I’ve tried to keep the extremely critical comments to myself.
Sometimes they slip through, as is my nature I guess, but by and by I really would rather not end up with a site that’s blocked. It’s not likely, as things are rarely shut down on a site by site basis. However, if you are in China and try to access the mirror of my site at Blogspot (or any site at Blogspot), you’ll have a troubled time doing so without Tor. In the end, I’m not sure what the “real” risks are for a foreigner speaking out about politics, policy, culture, etc.
That said, I’ve always a deep internal conflict not telling it how it is (or at least how my perspective views it). I am a journalist. Perhaps not currently in practice, but by education, experience and general attitude towards information, it is what I am. I guess this makes me particularly sensitive towards the punishment that other journalists have received for doing their job, and ethical duty. Below is a list of all the journalists currently imprisoned by the Chinese government as compiled by The Guardian Unlimited.
In my daily travels online I read a copious amount of information. More than I could ever hope to remember. I am consumed by it. I read, sometimes, for hours and hours on end. Clicking one link after another, leading from a news site, to a blog, back to a news site, to a summery of a referred to documentary, back to a blog, to Wikipedia to figure out what the hell “dhimmitude” means, and then I start all over again. It’s endless, not very productive, I’m not really that much more educated because of it, and man doesn’t it all give me a headache. But well, like any habit, I guess there need not be a real “purpose” for it.
The biggest things on my mind lately are the events surrounding all the talk about journalistic rights and freedom of press in China. We, in the free-er nations, sometimes forget how important that can be to an open and accountable society. Anyone can make the argument that the press in the West is just a corrupt and propaganda spreading institution with no morals or ethics left and that journalists are just pawns on the media conglomerates’ chessboard. And that does them a disservice as I really believe that most of them are soldiers of information – the most valuable thing our planet is producing these days. Without them, we’d know nothing. We trust them to deliver the most relevant and topical information to us in a concise enough format as to not test our rather limited attention spans.
News outlets are often criticized for being vultures of bad news, focusing entirely too much on the bad shit going down. Sadly though, I think that’s more a condition of the world we live in rather than the news’ fault. My Current Events professor in college once illustrated collecting the news as being in huge, dark room with nothing but a penlight. It is impossible to illuminate everything all the time, so journalists just have to get damn good at that penlight and guessing where they should point it.
But I digress… with the China issue, I really believe that things are leaning to change. Who knows, the closing of The Freezing Point, and the hooplah about Microsoft, Yahoo and Google may just all fade away – but I think it’s attrition, and ever so slowly the concept of freedom of thoughts and ideas is seeping into this otherwise “told what to do” nation.
Many had hoped for a loosening of controls when Hu Jintao became president three years ago. The early signs were good. During that year’s Sars crisis, journalists enjoyed wide freedoms to expose cover-ups and contributed to the sacking of the health minister and the Beijing mayor. It did not last. MediaGuardian has learned that former president Jiang Zemin wrote a letter to the politburo that summer warning that the media were running out of control. Since then, China has gone through a prolonged tightening. Prominent journalists have been arrested, publications closed, websites blocked, blogs shut down. Internet cafes are supposed to register all users and monitor which sites they visit. New filtering software has been introduced to limit access to “spiritually impure” information, which includes positive references to the Dalai Lama, Taiwanese independence or the Falun Gong spiritual movement. – Jonathan Watts, “War of the Words“, The Guardian
The Chinese journalists in prison
Compiled by Matt Keating with information from the Committee to Protect Journalists (www.cpj.org)
Monday February 20, 2006
Shi Tao The former editor of Dangdai Shang Bao is serving a 10-year sentence for an email he sent to an overseas website in 2004 in which he described the Chinese government’s instructions on how his newspaper should cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. Yahoo helped the Chinese authorities identify Shi through his email account.
Yang Tongyan He has been held without contact since December on the grounds that the case involves “state secrets”. He had previously spent 10 years in prison on “counter-revolution” charges for condemning the Tiananmen massacre.
Huang Jingao Sentenced to life in prison in November on corruption charges after he publicly exposed official misconduct in a letter to the People’s Daily.
Li Changqing Sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in January in connection with an article on the banned Boxun News website exposing an outbreak of dengue fever in Fujian province before the authorities officially announced it.
Zhu Wanxiang and Wu Zhengyou Detained in August 2005 after reporting on land disputes and rural unrest in China’s southeast province of Zhejiang. Sentenced to 10 years and six years respectively.
Ching Cheong A correspondent for the Singapore-based daily the Straits Times, Ching was detained last April while seeking transcripts of interviews with ousted former Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang.
Zheng Yichun Imprisoned in December 2004 after criticising the Communist party and China’s political leaders in online publications including the banned US-based dissident website Dajiyuan.
Zhao Yan The New York Times researcher faces 10 years in prison for “providing state secrets to foreigners”. Zhao was detained in September 2004 after the Times printed an article correctly predicting the retirement of Jiang Zemin as chairman of the central military commission.
Zhang Lin A political essayist, who wrote regularly for overseas online news sites, he was sentenced to five years in July on allegations of inciting subversion.
Zheng Yichun The former professor and regular contributor to Dajiyuan was sentenced last September to seven years.
Yu Huafeng and Li Minying The editor-in-chief and former editor of Nanfang Dushi Bao are serving eight years and six years in prison for corruption and bribery. In December 2003, their paper reported the first suspected Sars case in China since the epidemic died out in July that year.
Kong Youping The essayist and poet has written online articles supporting democratic reforms. Arrested in 2003, Kong was sentence to 15 years.
Huang Jinqiu The Boxun News columnist was detained in 2003 and sentenced to 12 years for “subversion of state power”.
Luo Yongzhong Due to be released in June after a three-year sentence for writing a series of articles for online forums.
Luo Changfu Sentenced to three years in November 2003 on subversion charges.
Cai Lujun Jailed for three years in 2003 for subversion for numerous essays distributed online calling for reforms.
Abdulghani Memetemin Sentenced to nine years in 2003 on charges of “leaking state secrets”.
Zhang Wei Sentenced in 2002 to six years in prison and fined 100,000 yuan (£7,000) for publishing illegal underground newspapers.
Tao Haidong The internet essayist and pro-democracy activist was given seven years in prison in 2003.
Yang Zili, Xu Wei, Jin Haike and Zhang Honghai Detained in 2001 and then sentenced in 2003 to a total of 36 years.
Jiang Weiping Arrested in 2000, serving six years in prison.
Xu Zerong Sentenced to 10 years on charges of “leaking state secrets”.
Wu Yilong, Mao Qingxiang and Zhu Yufu Sentenced to 25 years in 1999.
Gao Qinrong Jailed in 1998 for 12 years after reporting on a corrupt irrigation scheme.
Hua Di Charged with revealing state secrets. Serving a 10-year sentence.
Fan Yingshang Serving a 15-year prison sentence.
Chen Renjie and Lin Youping Chen was sentenced to life in 1983 and Lin was sentenced to death, later reprieved, for publishing a counter-revolutionary pamphlet. Executed
Chen Biling The co-producer of Ziyou Bao was sentenced to death in 1983.