By Chang Ping, published: January 18, 2015
Three months after friend and assistant Zhang Miao (張淼) was arrested, Angela Köckritz, Beijing correspondent for the German paper DIE ZEIT, wrote a detailed account to publicize the case and her own experience in the event. I admire Ms. Köckritz’s action. In similar cases, the Chinese government has used methods to impose silence on insiders, and in Zhang Miao’s case too, “her family asks that only a little be made public.” The authorities claim, explicitly or otherwise, that publicizing these cases would harm the detainees, and in a way, they are acknowledging that the Chinese judiciary can be swerved this way or that way at will depending on the public’s opinions. When families and insiders are forced to cooperate, the authorities are in fact likely commit more abuses in the absence of media and public attention.
Köckritz’s article is rife with information, including dark humor. For example, “From the beginning, it has said that Occupy Central is a ‘color revolution’ backed by foreign powers. Its argument would be more credible if it could produce a suspected spy. Maybe me?” But as a Chinese I find it hard to laugh, especially when officer Zhang, after learning that Zhang Miao didn’t have German passport and is still a Chinese citizen, said to Köckritz that “in any case Zhang Miao is a completely normal Chinese citizen. And we will treat her like we deal with Chinese citizens.” During a routine briefing of the Foreign Ministry last October, the spokesman Hong Lei, answering a question about Zhang Miao, also emphasized that “the person you mentioned is a Chinese citizen.”
If you understand why so many Chinese would do anything to secure a foreign passport for themselves and their families after they have made money or gained power, you would understand what it is like to be “treated as Chinese citizens.” Köckritz is lucky that she could still walk out of the police station after being accused of separatism and of organizing the Occupy Central protests – she cannot “enjoy” treatment reserved only for Chinese citizens.
If you are a Chinese citizen, you can be disappeared without even a plausible charge. In the aforementioned briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman said Zhang Miao was detained for “allegedly provoking disturbances,” but Köckritz said in her article that she was at first told that Zhang Miao was “involved in a village squabble,” and then, she was told that Zhang Miao’s case is “about the security of the state, about its territorial integrity,” and “about inciting unrest.” The judiciary procedure prescribed by the Criminal Procedure Law of PRC is supposed to regulate how police go about making charges. But the police told her that “the Criminal Procedure Law doesn’t apply.”
Ten years ago, Chinese news assistant Zhao Yan (赵岩) working for the Beijing Bureau of the New York Times was arrested on charges of leaking state secrets. Seven months later, the charges morphed into fraud. Then, shortly before Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States, the prosecutors dropped all charges against Zhao Yan. Two months later, the same prosecutorate indicted Zhao Yan again on fraud charges, and he was sentenced to three years in prison. Currently, both lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and scholar Guo Yushan were detained on one charge and then officially arrested on another. One may conclude that it is the Chinese government that is really committing fraud.
In my twenty years as a journalist in China, I have known many Chinese news assistants working for foreign media. Most of them were in fact journalists but since the Chinese government prohibits foreign media organizations to hire Chinese citizens as journalists, they could only work as assistants or researchers. Almost all of them have been interrogated by Chinese security police in the name of “chatting.” Some are forced to work for the security apparatus as informants, collecting intelligence and making routine reports. But most of them loathed it and were terrified. These circumstances are not only unfair to these Chinese media professionals, they are also a threat to freedom of press worldwide.
In China, over 200 people have been arrested for voicing support for the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, and Zhang Miao is one of them. This itself is absurd persecution against expressions. The police’s interrogation of Köckritz shows that, working for Die Zeit can be another charge against Zhang Miao in addition to supporting the Umbrella Movement. She can be investigated for, or charged with, colluding with foreign forces to separate the country, and divulging state secrets. German media and government have the responsibility to call for her freedom, and doing so is also fighting for its own press freedom.
This is the reality we must face: on the one hand, international opinion and governmental negotiation are still the forces, even the only forces, to constrain Chinese government’s wanton behaviors; on the other hand, the Chinese government cares less and less about these forces, and they even turn around to leverage against them. More foreigners are receiving the “treatment of Chinese citizens,” and in 2013, for example, Chinese-American Charles Xue was humiliated on the national TV after being detained for visiting a prostitute.
More and more foreign journalists in China have to learn to self-censor when reporting political topics, or they could be forced out of China just like Ms. Köckritz was. Reading her reports, I can see that she is a journalist who has in-depth understanding of Chinese politics and society. Forcing out such a foreign journalist, Chinese security police have once again scored big points.
Chang Ping (长平) is a veteran Chinese journalist and commentator of current affairs. He lives in Germany now.
(Translated by China Change)