China is the world’s biggest prison for journalists, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said. According to its annual report, 52 journalists are currently detained in the country.

In its annual report on violence and abuses against journalists published on Monday, the watchdog said that China “continues to improve its arsenal of measures for persecuting journalists and bloggers.”

reporters without borders
Reporters Without Borders report.

“The government no longer sentences its opponents to death but instead deliberately lets their health deteriorate in prison until they die,” the report added.

The report mentions Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and blogger Yang Tongyan, who both suffered from terminal-stage cancer while serving their jail sentences and died shortly after being transferred to hospital. Liu was also a RSF Press Freedom laureate.

liu xiaobo
File photo: In-Media.

Liu is known for co-writing the democratic manifesto “Charter 08” and was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for “subversion.” He died of liver cancer on July 13 at a hospital in northeast China whilst on medical parole. His wife Liu Xia, a poet, has been under house arrest since 2010.

Yang, who is also known by his pen name Yang Tianshui, was serving a 12-year prison sentence for “subversion of state power.” He is known for writings critical of the Chinese government, and was also jailed from 1990 to 2000 for criticising China’s response to the 1989 pro-democracy protests.

“The international community now fears for the life of Huang Qi, the founder of the 64 Tianwang news website and winner of the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2004, who is being subjected to beatings and denial of medical care in a Mianyang detention center in an attempt to force him to plead guilty,” the report said.

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The report notes that the number of citizen journalists detained has fallen compared to 2016 both worldwide and in China, where “the lack of information about the fate of journalists complicates the compiling of statistics.”

According to the report, 65 journalists were killed worldwide in 2017, while 326 are detained and 54 are being held hostage.

Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, said investigative reporters working on areas such as corruption and environment have fallen target to those angered by their work. “This alarming situation underlines the need to provide journalists with more protection at a time when both the challenges of news reporting and the dangers are becoming increasingly internationalized.”

In last year’s report, Turkey was named the biggest prison for journalists with “over 100” detained. But China topped the list with the highest confirmed statistic, having detained 103 journalists.

Karen cheung hong kong

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.