Wang Jianmin and Guo Zhongxiao, two veteran Hong Kong journalists, were sentenced to jail terms on Tuesday by a Shenzhen court for running an illegal business – two political magazines published in Hong Kong.

Wang was sentenced to five years and three months in prison, while Guo was jailed for two years and three months. Wang was also found guilty of two other charges: bid-rigging and bribery. They pleaded guilty in a trial in November last year.

Both Wang and Guo, originally from the mainland, were arrested in May 2014 in Shenzhen, where they lived. They were accused of earning around HK$7.8 million through publishing the New-Way Monthly and Multiple Face magazines, some of which were sent to the mainland.

Wang Jianmin Guo Zhongxiao
Guo Zhongxiao (left) and Wang Jianmin (right). File

8 mainland readers

The magazines were published by the National Affairs Limited company registered in Hong Kong in 2007 by Wang and Guo, who had both acquired the status of Hong Kong permanent residents. The magazines often reported the internal political struggles of the Chinese Communist Party.

The defence lawyer of the two journalists said during the trial at Shenzhen’s Nanshan District Court that the magazines were printed in Hong Kong and legally published in Hong Kong. According to the lawyer, their earnings from mainland sales were only 66,182 yuan (HK$76,923), and the two magazines were only sent to eight people on the mainland, reported Initium Media.

Their lawyer argued that the business involved less than 150,000 yuan (HK$174,327), the minimum amount required for the illegal business offence, and they had not seriously disrupted the market, another requirement for the offence.

Multiple Face New-Way Monthly
Multiple Face and New-Way Monthly magazines. Photo: Twitter.

Wang, also a US citizen, was the publisher of the magazines. Guo acted as an editor. He did not participate in operations on the business and publishing side and did not know about the eight readers on the mainland, their lawyer said during the trial.

The lawyer also argued that Guo’s work in Shenzhen was no different from a foreign journalist reporting in China, though the prosecution said there was a difference between writing an article and completing the editing of a magazine.

Guo may be released soon, as he has already been detained for two years and two months.

Before running their own magazines, Wang and Guo worked for the Hong Kong magazine Yazhou Zhoukan, which focused on political issues in East Asia.

Wang’s wife Xu Zhongyun, who helped send the magazines, was sentenced to a year in jail, suspended for two years. Liu Haitao, a freelance writer for the magazines, was sentenced to two years in jail, suspended for three years.

They also pleaded guilty. None of them will file an appeal, according to Initium.

Causeway Bay Books.
Causeway Bay Books. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

A tightening grip

Wang and Guo’s case came after recent events surrounding the publishing industry in Hong Kong that sparked fears over the Chinese government’s tightening grip on press freedom.

Yiu Man-tin, a Hong Kong publisher who had earlier planned to publish a book about Chinese president Xi Jinping, was arrested in Shenzhen in October 2013 for “smuggling ordinary goods.” In May 2014 he was sentenced to ten years in jail.

Five Hong Kong booksellers from Causeway Bay Books went missing one by one in Thailand, Shenzhen, Dongguan and Hong Kong since October, before reappearing on Chinese television channels “confessing” to running illegal book posting businesses.

Of the booksellers, three returned to Hong Kong for short stays before going to the mainland again, before Lam Wing-kee decided to hold a surprise press conference revealing the details of his kidnapping and detention by a Chinese special unit.

Gui Minhai, one of the booksellers and a Swedish national, is still detained on the mainland.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.