U.S. State Department Calls for Release of Citizen Journalists Who Documented Pandemic in Beijing
The U.S. State Department has called for the release of eleven citizen journalists who practice Falun Gong. They were imprisoned for publishing photos and articles online that exposed the severity of the pandemic in China.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been strictly censoring information regarding the pandemic—such as infection and death toll figures—as well as implementing harsh lockdowns within China. Doctors, citizen journalists, and academics have been punished by the CCP for sharing uncensored information on the outbreak or for criticizing the government’s response to the pandemic.
The eleven citizen journalists were arrested on July 19, 2020 and indicted this April for “taking photos and uploading them to overseas websites between February and June 2020,” according to their lawyers.
They were then charged with “undermining law enforcement with a cult organization,” a standard pretext used by the Chinese courts to criminalize Falun Gong practitioners.
For over a year now, they have been held in Dongcheng District Detention Center in Beijing. According to Minghui.org, the Beijing Dongcheng People’s Court canceled the detainees’ scheduled court appearance for August 19.
In response, the U.S. State Department has called for their release.
“The United States calls on the PRC [People’s Republic of China] government to release journalists and their contacts detained for their reporting on COVID-19 restrictions and to cease its efforts to silence those who seek to report the truth,” a State Department spokesperson wrote.
“A free and independent media, including citizen journalists, is essential to making government more accountable, keeping all of us safer from future outbreaks and possible pandemics.”
The detained include artist Xu Na, Li Zongze, Zheng Yujie, Li Lixin, Zheng Yanmei, Deng Jingjing, Zhang Renfei, Liu Qiang, Meng Qingxia, Li Jiaxuan, and Jiao Mengjiao. The group is primarily artists and musicians in their 20s.
The indictment does not name a specific website, but according to information obtained by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based press freedom watchdog, the detainees were indicted for supplying materials to the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times newspaper. Founded in 2000 in the United States, The Epoch Times says its earliest reporters in China were jailed, some for as long as 10 years, for unfiltered reporting of events in China.
The Epoch Times has repeatedly called the Dongcheng People’s Court but the calls have gone unanswered.