China prevents exposure of human rights violations in Tibet and Xinjiang in foreign media

Tibet China

As Beijing increases its repression of ethnic minorities in China to establish Han domination, the Chinese Communist Party is also devising numerous ways to ensure that the overseas media cannot expose this ongoing violation of human rights behind the bamboo curtain.

The Chinese media is highly censored. To project the false image of China as a progressive country, the mandarins of the CCP must prevent all these atrocities from being exposed in newspapers, news agencies and televisions in other countries.

From the experiences of foreign journalists reporting from Tibet and Xinjiang, the land of ethnic Tibetan and Uighur people, respectively, now under the illegal control of China, and from research into how the CCP controls the foreign media, it transpires that there are essentially two ways of doing this. One is to stop the flow of information to the outside world from these regions simply by preventing foreign reporters from visiting and operating in these areas. The other is to misguide the foreign media by planting fake news, by ideological brain-washing of journalists in different countries and by intimidating them with draconian legislations purportedly with extra-terrestrial reach.

“Tibet is one of the most restrictive places in the world for Press freedom, with information online and offline tightly controlled and censored by the Chinese government,” says a research paper by Sage, a global academic publisher of books and journals. Special restrictions exist on foreign correspondents who travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region and report to Tibetan areas. Tibetans who act as sources are persecuted. Requests from the Foreign Correspondents Club of China for visits to Tibet are routinely denied. Tours of foreign correspondents to the TAR, few and far between, are group trips closely supervised and coordinated by the authorities.

To prevent the filtering out of the real situation in Tibet to other countries, measures like network shutdowns, internet filtering, social media censorship, confiscation of satellite dishes and shortwave radio signal jamming are adopted. The authorities persecute Tibetans who provide journalists with assistance without official permission. A well-known case was of Tashi Wangchuk, Tibetan herder-turned-shopkeeper who in 2018 was sentenced to five years in prison for ‘inciting separatism’ for having talked to a New York Times reporter in Beijing in 2015. “Some of my sources have been prosecuted and sentenced from three to 16 years. A lot of them have been imprisoned,” a Tibetan journalist in exile has been quoted.

Internet filtering and radio jamming help Tibetan news groups reach Tibetan audiences. Frequencies are jammed, and the authorities confiscate satellite dishes. Websites face ‘Disturbed Denial of Service’ attacks, which typically occur around sensitive political anniversaries of Tibetan people.

The experience of Albanian-Canadian historian and journalist Olsi Jazexhi in 2019, as narrated in Al-Jazeera, is a telling story of how China prevents the filtering out of news to the outside world of violation of human rights inflicted on the Uighur Muslims. Jazexhi had joined a media tour of foreign journalists, mostly from Muslim countries, to the Xinjiang region.

“I wanted to defend the Chinese government,” he recalled. But he quickly understood that defending the Chinese narrative was a far more difficult task than he had anticipated. They were taken to one of the so-called vocational training centres outside the regional capital of Urumqi. “They said it was like a school but it was clearly a high-security site in the middle of the desert,” Jazexhi said. “They also told us that the people staying there were not allowed to leave. So it was obviously not a school but a prison and the people there were not students but prisoners. They (the Chinese hosts) were portraying the indigenous people of Xinjiang as immigrants and Islam as a religion that was foreign to the region. It was incorrect.”

Such media tours, organised at the behest of Chinese President Xi Jinping, are a common tactic employed by countries with something to hide.

Associated Press journalist posted in Beijing Yanan Wang has narrated the subtle ways of the propaganda department of the Chinese government to control reporting in the Uighur Autonomous Region.

“At the airport we had a welcoming committee from the local authorities. They offered us drives in their car and plenty of hospitality. From the moment we arrived, we’re followed by at least one car. We were taking photos, and someone suddenly appeared on the scene to say he was a ‘concerned citizen.’ He said taking photos was an infringement of his privacy rights. He had this long monologue about privacy rights and about how it wasn’t right for us to take photos of him without his knowledge. We asked him: ‘Well, where are you in these photos?’ He’d go through all of them. He said we had to delete all of them. ‘This is my brother,’ or ‘This is my place of work, you have to delete it.’ They posed as concerned citizens to obstruct reporting.”

A BBC team had a harrowing experience on a visit to the Uighur Autonomous region. “Over a period of less than 72 hours in Xinjiang we were followed constantly and on five separate occasions approached by people who attempted to stop us from filming in public, sometimes violently. In at least two instances, we were accused of breaching the privacy of these individuals on the basis that their attempts to stop us had led them to walk in front of our camera. Uniformed police officers attending these ‘incidents’ twice deleted our footage and on the other occasion we were briefly held by local officials who claimed we had infringed a farmer’s rights by filming a field.” The BBC team concludes: “China’s propaganda efforts may be a sign of just how damaging it believes the coverage of Xinjiang has been to its international reputation.”

Besides expelling foreign correspondents from China, the communist regime is now also trying to influence in its favour coverage in the international media, especially in countries where it has invested in Belt and Road Initiative projects. China regularly conducts exchange programmes for foreign reporters, training for journalists in Chinese cities and regular discussions with foreign journalists in Chinese media unions. Media contents with official propaganda are provided free to foreign journalists. Bilateral cooperation agreements with media outlets are launched at local levels, and supplements are run in respectable foreign publications.

In 2019, when Italy signed the BRI agreement with China, President of China Xi Jinping signed a series of agreements with Italian media companies. The Xinhua Italian News Service was launched in a MoU between the Italian news agency ANSA and the Chinese news agency Xinhua. Public broadcaster of Italy RAI reached agreements with China Media Group. “An expanding presence in Italian media gives Beijing a platform to spread its official view while potentially inhibiting more critical debates from emerging,” a London-based Henry Jackson Society report says. ANSA ended the agreement in 2022.

In poorer nations the infusion of money is often inducement enough. “A desk, a telephone and regular pay are all positives in countries where these are luxuries,” Jeremy Dear of the International Federation of Journalists has been quoted. Fake news on China is also planted in foreign media outlets, taking advantage of the latest communication technologies. Appeals to ideological beliefs are made to journalists to self-censor reports critical of China in cities with a communist tradition.

When nothing works, Beijing resorts to threats against foreign journalists to make them fall in line. In December 2023, China placed sanctions on Los Angeles-based research and data analytics firm Kharon and its two lead analysts, according to an Al Jazeera report. They were barred from entry into China. Assets or property owned by the company and the two analysts would be frozen. Organisations and individuals in China were prohibited from conducting transactions or cooperating with them. The company had reported extensively on human rights abuses against Uighur and other Muslim groups.

China uses the National Security Law of Hong Kong to threaten foreign journalists with arrest and prosecution if they are in a Chinese jurisdiction, even for transit. On March 13, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government threatened the London-based Hong Kong Watch with treason for critiquing the draconian Safeguarding National Security Ordinance.

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