China

Detained Chinese Journalists Forced to Make Televised Confessions


Qin Zhijun goes on trial at the Chaoyang District People's Court in Beijing on April 17

Photograph by Gong Lei/Corbis

Qin Zhijun goes on trial at the Chaoyang District People's Court in Beijing on April 17

Add a new tool to China’s justice system: Before any trial determines guilt or innocence, force the accused to confess to a crime on national television.

For the second time in a week, a Chinese journalist detained by police has appeared on China’s state-owned broadcaster, confessing to alleged crimes. “I have made up things that are not facts,” said 62-year-old Beijing resident Xiang Nanfu, a frequent freelance contributor to New York-based Chinese language website Boxun.com. “My behavior has had a very bad impact. I realize that I have smeared the ruling party and the government,” said Xiang, wearing a green prison vest in a news segment broadcast on May 13.

Xiang admitted that he “published numerous false stories, on a foreign website” and “fabricated information” that “seriously harmed” China’s image, reported the official Xinhua News Agency on May 13. Xiang has been detained since May 3 for allegedly “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” a catchall charge now increasingly used to lock up activists and lawyers who run afoul of the state.

Xiang’s public confession comes less than a week after one by veteran journalist Gao Yu, who appeared on national television with her face blurred out. Gao, who has been detained since April 24 for leaking state secrets to an overseas organization, spent six years in prison on the same charge in the 1990s. Gao said she had made a “big mistake” and admitted to her “guilt” in the May 8 broadcast on state broadcaster CCTV.

“The staging of Gao Yu’s confession is outrageous,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of France’s nonprofit Reporters Without Borders, in a May 9 statement. “Extracting a confession under duress and broadcasting it on state TV constitute a grave violation of fundamental rights. The authorities must end their policy of persecuting those who just do their job by informing their fellow Chinese citizens.”

Other recent televised confessions include one last month by blogger Qin Zhihui, sentenced to three years in jail for defamation, also on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” And Chinese American venture capitalist Charles Xue, a popular blogger who regularly posted reformist comments on sensitive subjects, was detained for almost eight months before being shown on national television confessing to visiting prostitutes. “(I) have committed a crime, have confessed, and have repented,” Xue said on April 18. He was released on bail shortly afterwards.

Since Xi Jinping was appointed party secretary in November 2012, Chinese “authorities have arrested more journalists and bloggers, cracked down harder on cyber-dissidents, reinforced online content control and censorship and stepped up restrictions on the foreign media,” wrote Reporters Without Borders in its 2014 press freedom index, released earlier this year. China came in 175th out of 180 countries, scoring better than only Somalia, Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea.

Dexter_roberts
Roberts is Bloomberg Businessweek's Asia News Editor and China bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter @dtiffroberts.

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