China fury: Xi ‘eliminating journalists’ as Beijing clamps down on dissent
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The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has in recent years clamped down on most aspects of society. A far cry from the relative peace and freedom the country enjoyed in the Eighties, now, with improved technology and a global pandemic, President Xi Jinping has pounced on the opportunity to further place control in the hands of the party and strip freedoms away. Even before the pandemic, China appeared to be slipping into a totalitarian coma.
The country has one of the highest number of CCTV cameras of any in the world, awarding it the dystopian nickname of the ‘surveillance state’.
As part of the party’s Han Chinese vision, the government has pursued a campaign of what has been described as ethnic and cultural cleansing: minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet and elsewhere face fierce persecution for celebrating their ancestry.
The CCP has also taken aim at independent journalists.
Most, if not all, mass media outlets in China are under some supervision or other of the Chinese state.
The country is fourth from bottom of the worst countries in the world for press freedom, in front only of Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea.
Currently, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), there are officially only 48 journalists imprisoned in China for no crime other than doing their job.
In a population of 1.4 billion it may seem a small number: but that is the point.
As Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at the organisation Human Rights Watch, told Express.co.uk, the small number of journalists being imprisoned does not indicate more press freedom.
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Quite to the contrary, it suggests a higher instance of journalists being “eliminated” and dissuaded from pursuing narrative alternatives to the state.
She explained: “I don’t see the fewer number of jailed journalists as an indicator of China’s press freedom getting better – it’s the opposite.
“China has no independent media.
“Any kind of organised journalism is controlled by the state to the extent where they are fully funded.
“They are private in a way but the system is structured so there is no independent journalism; no way to legitimately condemn the government without reprisal.
“Initially there were journalists who were independent; they reported on social media, making a living by asking for donations.
“Yet, they have largely been eliminated, they’ve been harassed or have gone to jail.
“Ultimately, people know the risk of doing independent journalism, because the people who have tried it have gone to jail, leaving everyone else aware of the repercussions.”
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Many independent journalists who covered the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak in places like Wuhan have since disappeared.
Fang Bin, a clothing salesman, visited and filmed countless hospitals in Wuhan after the death of Dr Li Wenliang from coronavirus, the doctor who first alerted the authorities to the outbreak of a Sars-like virus but was quickly dismissed.
His videos were shocking: patients clinging to life, dead bodies in the hallways of crammed waiting rooms, loved ones grieving for their recently deceased.
Mr Fang attracted the attention of thousands of followers on social media, and inevitably the focus and ire of authorities.
His final video filmed a crack through a door as police arrived at his home, claiming to be concerned for his health in light of his hospital visits.
Mr Fang has not been seen since.
China not only targets its homegrown reporters.
Earlier this year, scores of US journalists were expelled from the country in reaction to the US’ decision to classify Chinese state media as “foreign missions”.
Journalists the world over previously used Hong Kong as a base to evade the Great Firewall and hostility when reporting on the mainland.
That is now impossible after Beijing terminated the One Country, Two Systems framework in July.
A new study released by City, University of London and the University of East Anglia found that interest in and coverage of press freedom dramatically dropped from 2012 ‒ when Xi became President.
This is despite the fact that more than half of the world’s population is now said to be living in a country where freedom of expression is categorised as “in crisis”.
Meanwhile, the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) criticised China for censoring early coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.
They said that should the country have had a free press, the global pandemic could have been averted or at least diminished in severity.
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