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Hong Kong Undercuts Press Freedoms, Effectively Bans Freelance and Student Journalists

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  • Hong Kong just changed who it recognizes as journalists, using a system that would be easier to track them and restrict who can register as one.
  • The move was highly criticized as a way to restrict freelance and student journalism. The issue has sparked conversations and concerns about freedom of the press, speech, and more.
  • The change comes the same day that mainland China sentenced billionaire Ren Zhiqiang to 18-years for varying corruption charges. The charges, however, are seen as retaliation for criticizing President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in March.
  • On top of civil rights issues, concerns for human rights increased following a Tuesday report that highlighted the extent of a labor camp system in Tibet.

Hong Kong Press Under Attack

Police in Hong Kong issued new rules Tuesday that effectively ban freelance and student journalism, and allow police to more easily track and restrict journalists who are part of a recognized media organiztion.

In Hong Kong, the formerly autonomous city was known for its democracy, free speech, and independent journalism. Yet, recent events have effectively forced changes in the city, and the latest escalation targets journalists.

In a letter to four local journalist groups, Chief Superintendent Kenneth Kwok said that changes would be made to Police General Orders, which are police rulings. These recent changes would redefine who law enforcement recognizes as journalists. Currently, the police recognize “media representatives” as reporters, photographers, and television crews who carry proof of ID from newspapers, agencies, and television or radio stations.

Kwok’s letter explained the changes, saying, “After the amendment, the definition of ‘media representatives’ under the Police General Orders will be more concise and clearer, allowing frontline personnel to identify media representatives more efficiently and swiftly,”

These changes require domestic journalists to register with a state database that keeps track of their identity and credentials. Foreign journalists working for a “prominent” foreign news outlet are exempt from registering.

These latest changes will likely gut freelance and student journalism as neither group is employed by a news organization. Both those groups are bothersome to Hong Kong police, who accuse them of actively taking part in protests and demonstrations rather than impartially reporting them.

Local press groups don’t see the issue that way. A statement by eight organizations and associations characterized the changes as a major attack on independent journalism in the city.

“Today, the police have broken this relationship by planning to make a significant amendment without first discussing and consulting our sector. We demand the police to scrap the relevant amendment, or we will respond by taking any possible and necessary measures.”

The head of the Hong Kong Journalist Association, Chris Yeung, added his thoughts in an interview with the Hong Kong Free Press, saying, “It is quite regrettable. [The existing arrangement] was worked out among police, the government, and us years ago. It was an important part of our relationship.”

This attack against the press isn’t a new thing. On multiple occasions over the last few weeks, journalists were fined for breaking coronavirus public gathering restrictions while covering demonstrations after providing Hong Kong Journalist Association credentials.

https://hongkongfp.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/photo5361710746125315821-Copy-1050x699.jpg
A fine given to a journalist while covering coronavirus demonstrations. Via Hong Kong Free Press

Billionaire Sentenced to 18-Years Behind Bars

Many of the restrictions Hong Kong is beginning to face aren’t new to Mainland China. For decades, the mainland hasn’t had freedom of the press, association, or speech. The case of Ren Zhiqiang, for instance, highlights the lack of freedom of speech in China.

Ren is a Chinese billionaire who was sentenced to 18 years in prison Tuesday for embezzling $16.3 million in public funds, accepting bribes, and abusing power that caused the loss of $17.2 million for a state-owned company that he once was in charge of.

Despite none of those charges being directly related to freedom of speech, his case is seen as retaliation for something he wrote. Ren, a life-long Communist Party member, has a long-standing reputation of speaking out against the leadership of the Communist Party.

His most recent critique allegedly came in March, when a letter appeared on Chinese social media that attacked how the government was handling the COVID-19 outbreak. The letter is technically anonymous, but media outlets in China and across the globe have stated that Ren was the author.

Adding to that possibility was the fact that shortly after the letter came out, Ren disappeared in March. It wasn’t until April that charges were brought against him.

Ren’s alleged letter didn’t waste time criticizing the Communist Party. “This outbreak of the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic has verified the reality: when all media took on the ‘surname of the Party,’ the people ‘were abandoned’ indeed. Without a media representing the interests of the people by publishing the actual facts, the people’s lives are being ravaged by both the virus and the major illness of the system.”

“Surname of the Party,” is a euphemism used by party officials in 2016 to say that the press needed to be loyal to the Party. At the time, Ren critiqued that decision and was suspended as a party member for a year.

The letter in March also referenced a conference President Xi Jinping gave talking about the virus, saying: “I too am curiously and conscientiously studying [Xi’s teleconferenced February 23] speech, but what I saw in it was the complete opposite of the “importance” reported by all types of media and online. I saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his “new clothes,” but a clown who stripped naked and insisted on continuing being emperor.”

Despite holding a series of loincloths up in an attempt to cover the reality of your nakedness, you don’t in the slightest hide your resolute ambition to be an emperor, or the determination to let anyone who won’t let you be destroyed” he continued.

To be clear, it’s possible that Ren actually did everything he’s been accused of. Embezzling and accepting bribes are often how relationships between businesses and Communist party officials work in China. The sentencing court also recognized that he “voluntarily” admitted to all the charges.

However, the timing reflects a pattern in China that suggests officials are fine with minor forms of corruption if its mutually beneficial and only crackdown when someone gets on their bad side.

Constant confessions mean that courts have a 99% conviction rate, although most cases on the mainland are against business people and party officials.

Tibetan Vocational Training

On top of curbing the freedom of the press in Hong Kong, or allegedly silencing a critic on the mainland, a Tuesday report by German Anthropologist Adrian Zenz details a widespread labor camp system similar to what is happening in Xinjiang.

All across China, there are “vocational training centers,” many of which are used to combat poverty. However, in places like in Xinjiang, they are believed to be used to sinicize the local ethnic and cultural groups. The extent of these camps varies/ Xinjiang officials are accused of extrajudicial detentions and cultural genocide, while the camps in Tibet are seen as coercive efforts to change the populations.

Like Xinjiang, Tibet is filled with ethnic and religious minorities, many of whom live a traditional nomadic, herding lifestyle. According to Zenz’s report, which was corroborated by outlets like Reuters, Tibet’s program has “trained” half a million Tibetans. That’s 1/6 of all Tibetans.

The reason Tibet’s program has drawn particular concern is because revelations indicate that not only is the program being used to combat poverty, but it’s also being used to specifically target those with traditional lifestyles in order to “modernize” them.

Zenz notes that while extrajudicial detentions don’t seem to happen in Tibet, there is a heavy emphasis on coercing the population to join the military-style labor camps by party and government officials.

See What Others Are Saying: (South China Morning Post) (Independent) (The Guardian)

International

Russia Orders Social Media Sites To Block Calls for Navalny Protests

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  • Shortly after his arrest on Sunday, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for protests to take place on Jan. 23 and was met with a wave of support online.
  • In response, the government ordered tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Russian-centric VK to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
  • TikTok has already deleted 38% of posts with such calls while VK and YouTube have deleted 50%, and Instagram has removed 17%.

Navalny Calls for Protests

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and subsequent arrest earlier this week has set off a chain of events in the country.

Since his arrest, Navalny has called for protests to occur on Jan. 23. Now, Russian authorities are taking precautions and arresting his allies in an effort to slow down the momentum of the looming demonstrations. Among their many demands are that Navalny be released.

Throughout the week, thousands of posts shared by younger Russians have raged across social media asking that people partake in the protests. The reach of those posts, however, have been curtailed by the government.

Social media tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and the Russian-centric VK were ordered by the Russian government to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”

Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, later stated, “Internet sites will be brought to administrative responsibility in connection with the dissemination of information prohibited by law and aimed at attracting minors to participate in unauthorized mass public events.”

“Participation in such events is in violation of the established procedure, including in a pandemic, and carries risks of harm to life and health,” it added.

Censorship Payoff Unknown

For many of the sites, which are often seen as a way to promote free speech in regimes that are far more restrictive, the order puts them in an awkward position. Still, many have already complied, at least to some extend.

According to Roskomnadzor, Tiktok has deleted 38% of videos calling for minors to attend the protests. VK and YouTube have both deleted 50% of similar posts, while Instagram has removed 17% of posts that violate the regulations.

It’s unclear to what extent this censorship will have on stopping Russians from attending tomorrow’s protests; however, some of the nation’s largest protests in modern history have been organized by Navalny.

See what others are saying: (Moscow Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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International

Accusations Against Chinese Actress Shine Light on the Nation’s Surrogacy Laws

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  • Chinese actress Zheng Shuang is facing major backlash after her former partner, Zhang Heng, accused her of abandoning her two children born through U.S.-based surrogates.
  • Beyond public outcry and losing brand deals, Zheng is likely facing legal consequences after a Chinese government agency said that using a legal loophole to obtain a surrogate from abroad was “definitely not innocent.” 
  • Zheng denies the claims and hasn’t confirmed if the children are actually hers, although she’s listed as their mother on their birth certificates.
  • As for the children in question, Zhang has been taking care of them in the U.S.

American-Based Surrogacy Cause Controversy

Chinese social media users have launched into debates surrounding how the rich and elite circumvent domestic laws in order to obtain surrogate services.

The latest controversy is surrounding actress Zheng Shuang. Though she has never confirmed this publicly, Zheng allegedly went to the U.S. with her-now-ex Zhang Heng and had two children with the help of American surrogates. However, on Monday, Zhang accused Zheng of abandoning the children and leaving him to take care of them in the U.S. The couple reportedly broke up before the babies were born due to Zhang’s alleged infidelity.

According to the South China Morning Post, Zhang’s friend released a voice recording on the Chinese platform NetEase Entertainment. In it, Zhang and Zheng are allegedly having a discussion with their parents over what to do with the then-unborn children. Zheng’s father suggested that they abandon the children at the hospital, while Zheng reportedly expressed annoyance that they could not be aborted so late in pregnancy.

Legal Grey Zone Likely Won’t Help

Beyond public outcries, Zheng lost a recent brand deal with Prada that she signed just eight days before the accusations were made. Additionally, other brand partners, such as Aussie, have distanced themselves from the actress. She also faces multiple awards she has won being revoked as well as potential legal consequences.

Currently, surrogacy is illegal in China; however, the laws have a legal grey zone. Technically, providing surrogacy is what is illegal, but obtaining one from abroad is not explicitly mentioned, even if it goes against the spirit of the law.

The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party commented on the situation in a Weibo video post, saying that using this legal loophole to get a surrogacy was “definitely not innocent.” 

“Surrogacy is banned in China as it uses women’s uteruses as a tool and sells life as a commercial product.,” it continued. “As a Chinese citizen, the act of traveling to the US on a legal loophole is not abiding the law.” 

Following the post, companies like Blued, a gay dating app in China, took down sections of their apps that helped users set up services with surrogacy firms overseas.

Surrogacy is a controversial subject in China, with many actors and actresses obtaining them overseas, but many social media users across the country are against the practice. Officially, the government claims that it “overlooks life” and “tramples the bottom line [of human morality].

Zheng has denied claims that she abandoned any children, and has never confirmed whether or not she actually has any, although she is listed as the mother on the children’s birth certificates.

As for the children in question, even though Zheng’s father suggested abandoning them in the hospital, her ex has been taking care of them in the U.S.

See What Others Are Saying: (South China Morning Post) (Straits Times) (New York Times)

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American Influencer Kristen Gray To Be Deported From Bali

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  • In a viral Twitter thread, influencer Kristen Gray encouraged people to move to Bali like she did while promoting her eBook and other resources on how to do so amid COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Many criticized her for encouraging an influx of travelers during the pandemic. She also sparked conversations about gentrification and was slammed for falsely characterizing Indonesia as queer-friendly.
  • The local government promised to deport her Tuesday, arguing that selling her book and offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit. They also say she was “spreading information that could unsettle the public.”
  • “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia,” Gray told reporters. “I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT.”

Kristen Gray Goes Viral

Officials in Indonesia said Tuesday that they will deport Kristen Gray, an American influencer who has caused international outrage in the last week.

Gray moved to Bali with her girlfriend in 2019 with plans to stay for six months. In reality, the couple ended up staying much longer because of the coronavirus pandemic, and in a viral Twitter thread, Gray shared how positive their experience has been.

Gray pointed to several benefits of moving to Bali in her posts, like its safety, low cost of living, luxury lifestyle, as well as its queer-friendly and Black communities.

She also encouraged others to make the same move and promoted their $30 eBook “Our Bali Life Is Yours” for tips on how to do it. “We include direct links to our visa agents and how to go about getting to Indonesia during COVID,” she even wrote in one post.

Backlash

The thread sparked outrage for encouraging an influx of travelers to a country that has closed its borders over the worsening pandemic. On top of that, it sparked conversations about the gentrification of neighborhoods there.

Bali is a major tourist destination for Americans, Europeans, and Australians in particular, and like areas all over the world, it has suffered from the loss in visitors this year.

However, many online noted that locals have been steadily priced out of certain areas of the island as foreigners open businesses to cater to tourists. Others argue that poorly regulated development is also destroying industries that Balinese people have historically relied on.

Aside from those criticisms, many people also took issue with Gray characterizing Bali as a queer-friendly when the reality for locals is far different.

“It well may be the case for you. However, please recognize that it is because a) you’re a foreigner and b) you have economic leverage since the Indonesian local community is financially dependent on keeping you happy so they don’t mess with you,” a user named Kai Mata said in a viral TikTok.

“Please realize for the rest of us Indonesians on the island, this is not a queer-friendly place. Our gay communities are often shut down and raided by authorities and Indonesia at large has tried to mandate conversion therapy for us the LGBTQ+ Community.

Government Responds

The local government responded to the public outrage over Gray’s thread Tuesday. In a statement, it said selling her book and also offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit, which was valid until January 24.

Gray was also accused of “spreading information that could unsettle the public” by saying Bali is queer-friendly and suggesting foreigners travel there during the pandemic.

According to Reuters, she was being held at an immigration detention facility Tuesday and was to be deported as soon as a flight was available.

In a brief statement to the Balinese press, Gray defended herself. “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia. I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT,” she explained.

Many of her fans believe her and also argue that she is seeing this level of criticism because she is a Black woman.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Reuters) (Vulture)

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