China the 'world's worst jailer of journalists'

Ahmed Areff, News24

Johannesburg - As Chinese President Xi Jinping chairs the two-day Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, which began in Johannesburg on Friday, at least 44 journalists are behind bars in his country for charges including criticising the state.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists's report from last year, 221 journalists were in jails around the world. It regarded China as the worst jailer of the media in the world.

Figures for 2015 are not yet available.

The CPJ said in 2014 that the figures "reflect the pressure that President Xi Jinping has exerted on media, lawyers, dissidents, and academics to toe the government line".

Several of these reporters were arrested and jailed for criticising the government's involvement in Tibet and Xinjiang.

The Chinese government says Tibet is part of their country and the Xinjiang region in China's far west has had a long history of discord between the authorities and the indigenous ethnic Uighur population.

Here are six journalists that the Chinese government has detained.

1) Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel peace prize winning writer

According the CPJ, Liu, a longtime advocate of political reform was imprisoned on charges of inciting subversion through his writing.

Liu was an author of Charter 08, a document promoting universal values, human rights, and democratic reform in China. He was detained in Beijing shortly before the charter was officially released, according to international news reports.

Liu was charged with subversion in June 2009, and he was tried in the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court in December of that year.

On December 25, 2009, the court convicted Liu of inciting subversion and sentenced him to 11 years in prison and two years' deprivation of political rights.

In October 2010, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded Liu its 2010 Peace Prize "for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China".

2) Yang Tongyan, a freelance writer

According to the CPJ, Yang, commonly known by his pen name Yang Tianshui, was detained along with a friend in Nanjing, eastern China.

He was tried on charges of subverting state authority and, on May 17, 2006, the Zhenjiang Intermediate People's Court sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

Yang is a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, and he was a contributor to US-based websites banned in China.

He often wrote critically about the ruling Communist Party and advocated for the release of jailed Internet writers.

3) Memetjan Abdulla, editor of the state-run China National Radio Uighur service

Adbulla was detained in July 2009 and was accused of instigating ethnic rioting in Xinjiang through postings on the Uighur-language website Salkin, which he managed in his spare time.

A court in the regional capital, Urumqi, sentenced him to life imprisonment on April 1, 2010, the reports said. The exact charges against Abdulla were not disclosed.

Abdulla was targeted for talking to international journalists in Beijing about the riots, and translating articles on the Salkin website.

4) Tursunjan Hezim, editor of the Uighur website Orkhun

According to the CPJ, police in Xinjiang detained international journalists and severely restricted internet access for several months after rioting broke out on July 5, 2009, between groups of Han Chinese and the predominantly Muslim Uighur minority.

It was reported that a court in the region's far western district of Aksu had sentenced Hezim, along with other journalists and dissidents, in July 2010.

Several other Uighur website managers received heavy prison terms for posting articles and discussions about the previous year's violence, according to CPJ research.

5) Gartse Jigme, a Tibetan author and monk

Police arrested Jigme, in his room at the Rebgong Gartse monastery, according to news reports.

His family was reportedly unaware of his whereabouts until a Qinghai court sentenced him to five years in prison on May 14, 2013. The charges have not been officially disclosed, but the Independent Chinese PEN Centre said he was accused of "inciting split"- trying to break away from the Communist Party.

According to reports the conviction was in connection with the second volume of Jigme's book, Tsenpoi Nyingtob (The Warrior's Courage). The book apparently contained chapters expressing Jigme's opinions on topics such as Chinese policies in Tibet, self-immolation, minority rights, and the Dalai Lama.

6) Kunchok Tsephel, a writer for the Chomei website

Tsang ran the Tibetan cultural issues website Chomei.

His detention appeared to be part of a wave of arrests of writers and intellectuals in advance of the 50th anniversary of the March 1959 uprising preceding the Dalai Lama's departure from Tibet, according to the CPJ.

The 2008 anniversary had provoked rioting in Tibetan areas, and international reporters were barred from the region.

In November 2009, a Gannan court sentenced Tsang to 15 years in prison for disclosing state secrets, according to The Associated Press.