Index speaks to New York Times journalist about when he was forced to leave China

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”112409″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]China has just revoked the press credentials of three journalists from the Wall Street Journal after the newspaper refused to apologise for a column called China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia. The journalists – Josh Chin, Philip Wen and Chao Deng – have each established a strong reputation for their reporting from China. The column that angered Chinese officials, here, is an opinion piece written by the academic Walter Russell Mead. Chin, Wen and Deng have been given just five days to leave.

This is not the first time China has expelled journalists working for newspapers that publish the “wrong” kind of news story, though to expel three at once is a serious act of aggression (the first time in the post-Mao Zedong era the government has expelled multiple journalists from one international news organisation at the same time). It’s another example of the lengths China will go to to stifle criticism at home and abroad. Back in 2014, New York Times reporter Austin Ramzy was the victim of similar treatment, following a story about the family wealth of a former high level official, Wen Jiabao. We interview Ramzy about what it was like having to leave China.

Index: When your visa was not renewed back in 2014, do you remember how you felt at the time?

Ramzy: When I was forced out in 2014 I was sad to leave the place where I had lived and worked the previous seven years, frustrated at the circumstances it was happening under and a bit overwhelmed at being at the centre of a news story.

Index: How logistically easy was it to leave? You had more time than five days, but was it still rushed and hard?

I had been working at TIME, but after I moved to the New York Times I was not given a new journalist visa. At the end of 2013 I was given a one-month humanitarian visa, basically to give me time to pack up. I sent my dog home to live with my sister, stored most of my stuff in a friend’s basement and went to Taiwan with a couple suitcases.

I had a month to prepare. Five days to leave would be very difficult. I do know the journalists being forced out and wish them the best during a very difficult time.

Index: What was it like working immediately after?

Ramzy: Returning to work was a strange feeling but it was also a welcome sort of normalcy.

Index: It’s another huge blow and sign of how much less room there is for free expression under Xi Jinping compared to Hu Jintao.

Ramzy: The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said this was the first expulsion, rather than a visa non-renewal, that it knew of since 1998. And I can’t think of a time when so many journalists were forced out at once. So yes, it seems clear the environment is getting worse.

Index: Have you been back to China (mainland) since?

Ramzy: I have been back to the mainland a few times to see friends, but not for work as a journalist.

Index: Does it make you sad that you can’t report from China?

Ramzy: I’m in Hong Kong now, so I still help cover China and there’s plenty to keep me busy.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Six sites blocked by China’s Great Firewall


The New York Times is blocked in China.

Last month, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology unveiled the country’s a new 14-month campaign to tighten control over the internet. The Chinese government is specifically concerned about virtual private networks, which punch holes through the country’s so-called “Great Firewall”. Without the VPNs, China’s internet users are unable to browse some of the world’s largest web sites. So the campaign made big news around the world.

But Charlie Smith of the 2016 Index on Censorship Digial Activism Award-winning GreatFire, an anonymous collective fighting Chinese internet censorship, told us that the VPN campaign is “actually kind of being mis-reported by the press, in general. It’s not as big a deal as it is being made out to be. We’d make a lot of noise if it was a big deal.”

Here are just six sites that are regularly blocked by China’s Great Firewall:

  1. YouTube

YouTube was first blocked in March of 2008 during riots in Tibet and has been blocked several times since, including on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests in 2014. At the time of the Tibetan riots, much of China’s population speculated that the YouTube ban was an attempt by the government to filter access to footage that a Tibetan exile group had released

  1. Instagram

It’s typical for China’s internet censors to go into overdrive during politically sensitive events and/or time periods, which is why it doesn’t come as a surprise that Instagram was blocked in 2014 after pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. To some, the block on Instagram during the protests exposed Beijing’s fears that people in the mainland might be inspired by the events taking place in Hong Kong. While some parts of the social media site may be restored, the site is still listed as 92 percent blocked.  

  1. The New York Times

In late December 2016, the Chinese government made waves by ordering Apple to remove their New York Times app from the Chinese digital app store. According to the newspaper, the app had been removed on 23 December under regulations prohibiting all apps from engaging in activities that endanger national security or disrupt social order. The New York Times website as a whole has been blocked since 2012 in China, after the newspaper published an article regarding the wealth of former prime minister Wen Jiabao and his family. People turned to the NYT app after the blockage in order to maintain access to the the paper’s stories. Now that the app is blocked as well, the New York Times is only available to those who had downloaded the app before its removal from the store.

  1. Bloomberg

In June of 2012, the popular business and financial information website published a story regarding the multimillion dollar wealth of Vice President Xi Jinping and his extended family. Considering this story too invasive, the Chinese government blocked Bloomberg and has yet to reopen the site to the public. At the time, the Chinese government was going through a period of transition, as power shifted from then President Hu Jintao to Jinping. 

  1. Twitter

Censors in China blocked access to Twitter in June of 2009 in anticipation of the 20th anniversary of the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. The move seems to reflect the government’s anxiety when it comes to the anniversary and the sensitive memories that come with it. The blocking of Twitter has also allowed for the rise of the Chinese app Weibo, a censored Twitter clone, which quickly became one of China’s most popular.

  1. Reuters

One of the more recent bans by the Chinese government came in the form of the international news agency Reuters. In March 2015, the organisation announced that both its English and Chinese sites were no longer reachable in the country . China has blocked media outlets like Reuters in the past, but these moves have always come after the release of a controversial story. In the case Reuters, the ban seemed to have come out of nowhere, with the reason behind the blockage still unclear.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1487260644692-d841ab7e-8ed3-4″ taxonomies=”85″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Index Index – International free speech round up 31/01/13

A woman who said she was raped by state security forces and the journalist who interviewed her were charged by police on 29 January in Somalia. Journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim could face four years imprisonment for insulting a government body and two years for inducing false evidence. Abdiaziz has been charged with insulting a government body, simulating a criminal offence and making a false accusation. The alleged rape victim’s husband and two others who introduced her to the journalist were charged with assisting her to secure a profit for the rape allegation and assisting her to evade investigation. The sentences are five and four year terms respectively. The next hearing will be held on 2 February. Abdiaziz had interviewed the woman on 8 January after she said she was raped by soldiers at a displaced persons camp in Mogadishu. He was detained by the Central Investigations Department of the police two days later.

lawtonjm - Flickr

Non-thinker (2012) by Aida Makoto – A less controversial piece from the Japanese artist

The New York Times has claimed it was hacked by Chinese officials over a period of four months. The attacks are thought to have come from hackers connected to the military in a possible retaliation to a series of stories run by the newspaper —  alluding to the vast wealth accumulated by premier of the state council Wen Jiabao. The hackers entered into the Times’s systems, accessing information on the personal computers of 53 employees, including China correspondents. Mandiant, an internet security company hired by the newspaper on 7 November, said the attacks were likely to have been part of a spy campaign, after discovering that the computers used for the attacks were the same used for Chinese military attacks on US military contractors in the past. Hackers began attacking the Times on 13 September, around the time the Wen Jiabao story was in its final pre-publishing stages.

A former policeman in the Ukraine has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of an investigative journalist, it was reported on 30 January. Oleksiy Pukache was the fourth person to be charged with the murder of Georgiy Gongadze, after his dismembered body was discovered in 2000. The other three were sentenced to 12 and 13 years. As Pukache was sentenced, he announced that equal blame for the murder should be placed on the country’s former president Leonid Kuchma and then presidential chief of staff Volodymyr Lytvyn.

Gongadze’s headless body was found in the woods six weeks after he was kidnapped in Kiev — a case which caused huge demonstrations and helped prompt the 2004 Orange Revolution. A lawsuit taken out against Kuchma in March 2011 was dismissed when prosecutors deemed it unlawful.

A Chinese man who was sent to a labour camp for making a joke about politician Bo Xilai has received minor damages after his compensation appeal was rejected. Fang Hong was sentenced to re-education for a year in 2011 for posting a poem online mocking the disgraced politician and his then police chief Wang Lijun. Chongqing’s Dianjiang county court rejected Fang’s request for around £37,400 in psychological damages, instead offering him just over £5,800, as well as rejecting his appeal for a public apology. This was the first known case of officials compensating for Bo-era abuses. Fang said he would ask his lawyers about appealing the ruling, but critics said his initial appeal was rejected to prevent a stream of further claims. Fang was freed in 2012 following the fall of Bo — whose wife Gu Kailai was convicted of the murder of British Businessman Neil Heywood in November 2011.

An art exhibition in Japan depicting cannibalism and Sadomasochism has prompted a debate over artistic freedom of expression. Aida Makoto’s  Monument for Nothing exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo on 29 January caused protests from Japanese organisation People Against Pornography and Sexual Violence, who wrote to museum director Nanjo Fumio to demand Makoto’s work be removed. Some of the artists pieces, depicted a giant blender filled with naked women, as well as Japanese pensioners playing croquet with severed heads. Makoto is said to use pornography to prompt people to look beneath Japan’s calm exterior and examine the darker elements of Japanese culture.

Journalists denied entry to Bahrain as anniversary of unrest approaches

Yesterday, Bahraini authorities denied visas to a number foreign journalists ahead of the anniversary of Bahrain’s 14 February uprising. Journalists from the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, Associated Foreign Press, and Al-Jazeera English were all denied visas “due to the high volume of applications”. Local activists expect a violent crackdown on 14 February, as protesters have vowed to return to the now closed Pearl Roundabout.

Among the journalists refused visas are Adam Ellick and  the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof. Ellick told Index that members of Bahrain’s media office had previously assured him that he would be able to “come back anytime”. This pledge was made during Ellick’s last trip in December 2011, during which both he and Kristof were were detained while reporting on protests.

Kristen Chick, a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor was also denied a visa yesterday. Like Kristof, she also reported from Bahrain during the crackdown.

On Twitter, the authority said it processed applications in the order that they were received, prioritising the earliest applications. The head of the Information Affairs Authority, Sheikh Fawaz, said that the government wanted to “[ensure] a wide range of international media here during this time”.

Last month, the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) sent Index a letter clarifying its stance on “media censorship,” boasting that 700 foreign journalists were allowed to enter the country to cover the Bahrain Air show. It is unclear how many journalists were allowed to enter the country to cover 14 February, but the IAA is insisting that they are allowing many foreign outlets to cover the anniversary of the uprisings. The IAA claim they have granted a number of foreign journalists visas to cover the anniversary, they named Voice of America, BBC, Reuters, Associated Press and Russia El Youm as major news sites allowed to enter the country to cover the anniversary of the uprisings in the tiny country.

Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, who was also denied a visa to enter the country in January, told the Los Angeles Times that “the government is only fuelling suspicions that they don’t want the rest of the world to see what’s going to happen”.

Maryam Al-Khawaja, Head of Foreign Affairs for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said that the denied visas were not “a good sign,” and added that it was “even more worrisome that NGOs are not being allowed in either”.

Last month, Dooley, Rick Sollom from Physicians for Human Rights and a delegation from Freedom House were all denied visas, and invited to return at the end of February. The e-mail denying visas to journalists also invited them to return at the end of February, when the “National Commissions work implementing the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)” would be completed.

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights anticipates an escalation in the protests on 14 February. Al-Khawaja said “high numbers of protesters will continuously attempt to access what was Pearl Square, and the government will use excessive violence to keep them out.”