Accused of espionage and subversion, at least 45 contributors are in custody; the reporter who filmed a secret camp in Xinjiang “disappeared” after the arrest.
In August 2018, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities designated Bitter Winter a “foreign hostile website” for publishing secret documents and news reports about the CCP’s suppression of religious beliefs and human rights violations. The authorities have retaliated by launching repeated attempts to hack the website, and by targeting reporters and contributors.
Since August, at least 45 Bitter Winter contributors in mainland China have been arrested for filming incidents of, or gathering news about, the CCP’s persecution of religious freedom and violation of human rights. Reporters are usually detained and interrogated on the charge of “divulging state secrets” or “involvement in infiltration by foreign forces.” Some reporters have been sent to “legal education centers” to undergo mandatory indoctrination, while others have been tortured and abused.
The CCP has intensified its attacks on freedom of the press and those recording human rights violations in China. Reporters Without Borders, an international non-profit based in Paris, France, released a report in December, naming China as the country with the most imprisoned journalists. At least 60 professional and citizen journalists have been arbitrarily detained (strict control of information by Chinese authorities makes it difficult to document the case of every missing journalist, so the number may be higher).
This crackdown on reporters has hit Bitter Winter hard. In mid-October, two contributors were arrested in the southeastern coastal province of Fujian. They are still being detained. The authorities designated them as so-called “first-level persons” that undergo heightened scrutiny, with family visits prohibited. According to insiders, both contributors have been tortured by police.
Another contributor, from Xinjiang, conducted groundbreaking investigative reporting into “transformation through education camps,” including their internal construction. That contributor was arrested at the end of September. To date, his whereabouts remain unknown.
Some contributors who have been released were able to report on their interrogations. According to one, he was told, “You’re in China, so you must abide by Chinese laws. If the state deems that you have violated the law, then you have violated the law. If the Party wants to mess with you, it would be like crushing an ant.” The reporter was further told, “Collecting these materials and reporting about these incidents is a subversion of state power; it is espionage.”
Another contributor remarked, “Covering the news is very dangerous, but we must let the world know the reality of the CCP’s persecution of religious beliefs and its abuses of human rights. They should be condemned and stopped. I think that I will be able to persevere and continue to report.”
Reported by Lin Yijiang