China Remains World’s Biggest Jailer of Journalists: World Press Freedom Index 2024

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Press freedom in China continues to deteriorate under CCP rule. The Chinese citizen journalists’ situation is especially dire.

As May 3 marked World Press Freedom Day, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its 2024 World Press Freedom Index.

China ranked near the bottom—172nd among 180 countries and regions—while maintaining its title from the previous year as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.

RSF, the Paris-based international non-governmental organization dedicated to safeguarding freedom of information, said in the report that “in addition to detaining more journalists than any other country in the world,” the Chinese communist regime “continues to exercise strict control over information channels, implementing censorship and surveillance policies to regulate online content and restrict the spread of information deemed to be sensitive or contrary to the party line.”

RSF also pointed out in the report that “China is the world’s largest jailer of journalists, with more than 100 currently detained.”

Compared with last year’s ranking of 179th—second last place—China’s ranking this year has increased. However, the report indicated that the only reason for this slight upward movement in the rankings is the deterioration of situations in other countries and regions, such as in the war-torn Palestinian territory, rather than any improvement in China.

The press freedom ranking of Hong Kong—which is controlled by the Chinese regime—this year has also increased slightly, to 135th place, which is higher than its 140th position in 2023. However, its freedom score dropped 1.8 points from last year’s 44.86 “due to an increase in the persecution of journalists under the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020,” says the report. RSF explained, “Some countries’ rises in the Index are misleading inasmuch as their scores fell and the Index rises were the result of falls by countries previously above them.”

Over 100 Chinese Writers Jailed

Meanwhile, New York’s PEN America released its Freedom to Write Index 2023.

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The report, released on May 1, pointed out that China also remains the world’s leading jailer of writers and public intellectuals. “In 2023, China jumped above 100 cases, jailing 6 writers during the year for a total of 107. Of the total number of writers, 9 are female.”

Among the 107 writers imprisoned, 50 were online commentators who post their opinions on a range of social, political, and economic topics on social media platforms. The report said that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses the vague charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” to arrest and imprison them.

Riot police pepper spray journalists on the 23rd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China as protesters gathered for a rally against the new National Security Law in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020. (Dale De La Rey/AFP via Getty Images)Riot police pepper spray journalists on the 23rd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China as protesters gathered for a rally against the new National Security Law in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020. (Dale De La Rey/AFP via Getty Images)

Canada-based journalist and writer Sheng Xue told The Epoch Times on May 4 that the numbers published by these international organizations are just the few leaked out to the outside world under the CCP’s tight control of information.

“No one knows how many journalists in China have been persecuted to death, how many have been secretly arrested, sentenced, persecuted, and tortured,“ Ms. Sheng said. ”The entire system of the CCP is a state-terrorist regime, which means not only the central committee of the CCP is an autocratic and authoritarian system, [but] all levels of its power operate the same as a dictatorial and tyrannical regime. Therefore, it is impossible for the outside world to know many incidents. It is difficult to collect statistics. To be honest, even [CCP leader] Xi Jinping does not know.”

“I believe China is definitely the country where press freedom and freedom of speech are most severely persecuted in the world,” Ms. Sheng added. “Its political system enables it to reach such an extent.”

Lai Jianping, a Chinese human rights lawyer who currently resides in the United States, told The Epoch Times on May 4 that press freedom and freedom of speech in China, including Hong Kong, are actually declining and deteriorating.

“The reason why the CCP continues to tighten its control over speech is mainly because it is facing increasingly profound and unprecedented political, social, and economic crises. Its ruling status is threatened, and it wants to maintain one-party dictatorship and one-man dictatorship. Therefore, it continues to strengthen its control over all aspects of social life. So [suppressing] freedom of speech and freedom of the press are top priorities for the CCP and are the most important aspects of social life that it needs to control.”

Chinese Citizen Journalists

Chinese citizen journalists have also been targets of the Chinese regime’s suppression and persecution.

Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in prison for reporting the truth about the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan in 2020. Her sentence will be completed on May 13. RSF urges the international community to pay attention and put pressure on Beijing so that she can fully regain her freedom in a press release last month. Ms. Zhang was the winner of the RSF’s 2021 Prize for Courage.

A pro-democracy activist holds a placard urging Chinese authorities to release Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan and 12 detained Hongkongers, outside the Chinese central government's liaison office, in Hong Kong, on Dec. 28, 2020. (Kin Cheung/AP Photo)A pro-democracy activist holds a placard urging Chinese authorities to release Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan and 12 detained Hongkongers, outside the Chinese central government's liaison office, in Hong Kong, on Dec. 28, 2020. (Kin Cheung/AP Photo)

Wuhan citizen journalist Fang Bin has been released from prison for a year but continues to face harassment by CCP authorities. Currently, he faces eviction while his electricity and water have been cut off at his residence, as Wuhan police pressure his landlord. He may soon be forced to live on the streets.

During the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan in February 2020, Mr. Fang posted his video reports on social media revealing the massive number of deaths at that time, which attracted widespread international attention. Later, he was arrested by the local police and sentenced to three years’ prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

Chinese citizen journalist Fang Bin in a YouTube video posted on Feb. 4, 2020 reporting the deaths in Wuhan during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Screenshot via The Epoch Times)Chinese citizen journalist Fang Bin in a YouTube video posted on Feb. 4, 2020 reporting the deaths in Wuhan during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Mr. Lai said, “Citizen journalists are a basic link in the entire freedom of press [ecosystem]. Not only the [Chinese] official media and official journalists’ freedom of speech and press freedom are suppressed, but private citizen journalists are also suppressed, and even more seriously.”

He added, “There are fewer and fewer areas in which they can report and intervene, and there is almost no space for them. Because the CCP wants to monopolize the entire discourse system and right to discourse, there is basically no room for citizen journalists to survive.”

Ms. Shen said that at this point, “there are no citizen journalists in China any more. When we talk about freedom of press, freedom of speech, media freedom, etc. in China, the Communist Party has given us the best answer—it has already declared that the media is the CCP’s mouthpiece.”

Luo Ya and Fang Xiao contributed to this report.

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