Four Falun Gong followers, Jin Wei, Li Xiangdong, Shu Jianqiu and Li Wei, were sentenced on 18 May by the N°1 Intermediate People’s Court of Chongqing (south-west of the country) to prison sentences of sixteen, fifteen, nine and seven years respectively. According to the Xinhua press agency, a fifth member involved in the broadcasting hijack, Liu Chunshu, died as a result of his "illness" while he was being held in custody. The five members of the religious movement had interrupted cable television programmes in the district of Chongqing on 1 January 2002 to broadcast documentary films about Falun Gong. Jin Wei, considered to have masterminded the operation, was found guilty of having "organised and used a cult with the aim of obstructing the law and sabotaging television equipment".
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières - RSF) has written to Ding Guangen, Head of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s Propaganda Department, condemning the crackdown on Chinese journalists and citizens attempting to challenge the State’s and the Communist Party’s monopoly on information. "Over recent weeks, we have learned of the arrest of a journalist, the closure of a magazine, charges of circulating banned documents being brought against followers of the Falun Gong religious movement and a wave of repression in the Xinjiang province. These events demonstrate yet again the use of force by the Chinese government in implementing its unchallenged media monopoly", states Robert Ménard, the organisation’s Secretary-General. "Arresting people who are peacefully seeking media access is a blatant and serious violation of the right to pluralism in information. While not commenting on the ideas put forward by religious movements such as Falun Gong, RSF believes that all Chinese people, regardless of race, religion or social group, have the right to express their opinions in the media", adds Mr Ménard. RSF calls on the propaganda chief to halt the repression of those who try to resist the stranglehold of the censure.
According to information gathered by RSF, the Chinese government has stepped up its crackdown on unauthorised publications in the majority Uighur province of Xinjiang. According to a number of Uighur human rights organisations, the Chinese authorities, notably the Department of Cultural Affairs, have seized and destroyed numerous books and other publications in Urumqi (the capital of this Western province). During March 2002, the security services are claimed to have seized and burned Uighur books. Finally, on 25 March, the authorities in Beijing are said to have told their representatives in Xinjiang to "bring some order" to the press of this troubled region, shaken by separatist movements. According to Beijing, "separatist organisations are trying to take control of the media from abroad."
In March, the Chinese and foreign press were prevented from covering widespread workers’ strikes in the northern city of Liaoyang. Only a few local newspapers and the state television mentioned the strike action, denouncing the workers’ leaders as law-breaking criminals. Four of them are still under arrest.
In Beijing, Wang Kun, editor of the magazine Huaxia Yingcai (Brilliant Chinese), is due to be tried by a Beijing court over the coming weeks for "unlawful publication" of this magazine and for "impeding the social order and the market". According to the daily South China Morning Post, the journalist’s arrest followed the banning of this new magazine, which is registered in Hong Kong rather than in mainland China as the law requires. Launched in Beijing in 1996, the monthly Huaxia Yingcai claims to have a circulation of more than 100,000 in mainland China, notably among Communist Party executives. Relatively uncritical of the Communist regime, the magazine had however in February 2001 published an interview with Nobel prize-winner Gao Xingjian, "outlawed" by Beijing. But according to an official in charge of the crackdown on "illegal publications", quoted in the South China Morning Post, the Huaxia Yingcai was never given authorisation to publish. The authorities appear to be criticising the magazine’s editor for having attempted to mislead readers and advertisers by using a name similar to that of the paper Zhonghua Yingcai, supported by National People’s Congress Chairman Li Peng.
In addition, nine followers of the Falun Gong religious movement were charged on 18 April by a court in Changchun (North-East of the country) with "promoting an evil sect with intent to damage law enforcement". The authorities claim that Falun Gong illegally broadcast two documentaries about the persecution of this movement, which has been banned since July 1999, on cable television early in March. Members of the movement took over television channels in order to broadcast the films, arousing the anger of the authorities. Chinese police investigated Falun Gong followers in Changchun for several weeks before arresting some twenty suspects. The authorities claim this was an "organised and premeditated criminal act with a clearly evil intention". The defendants risk a prison sentence of up to fifteen years.
At the same time, the economics editor of the Guangzhou Daily (in the South of the country) was questioned by police for several hours following his unwitting publication of two poems attributed to Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi. According to the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po, the journalist was arrested early in April following the publication on 30 March of these two texts, which speak of suffering and spiritual salvation using economic metaphors.
The protestant group Huanan Jiaohui (Church of South China) has also suffered from the crackdown. In December 2001, a court in the central Hubei province passed a death sentence on Li Ying, niece of Pastor Gong Shengliang, for having published and distributed an undercover magazine Huanan Zhuankan. The group had been using this publication since 1994 to disseminate its news among its followers. RSF is not in a position to confirm whether or not Li Ying has been executed.
Finally, in February 2002, the Minister of Communication drew up a list of ten failings of the Chinese press, including "undermining the Communist Party Committees", being "too independent" or "attaching value to Western-style journalism". It appears that, in the lead-up to the Communist Party Congress in September 2002, at which Hu Jintao is due to be designated President, the Propaganda and Public Security Departments have been given the task of putting an end to criticism, notably in the media.