Vocal award-winning Chinese journalist missing, feared detained | Asia Pacific

Vocal award-winning Chinese journalist missing, feared detained

Vocal award-winning Chinese journalist missing, feared detained

Updated 2 May 2014, 12:26 AEST

Ahead of World Press Freedom Day, the free expression advocacy group, PEN America has spoken out about the disappearance of a veteran Chinese journalist.

PEN says 70 year old Gao Yu has not been heard from for a week, and nothing is known of her whereabouts.

Ms Gao's disappearance comes ahead of the 25th anniversary of the student-led June 4th Tiananmen Square protests, for which she was jailed for over a year.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America

NOSSEL: There's no information available. Her colleagues don't know where she is, she's been out of touch with everybody for now several days, so we have our suspicions, but we have not been able to confirm where she is.

LAM: Gao Yu, of course, as a member of the Chinese PEN Centre, and so your colleagues in China have no news either?

NOSSEL: They don't, they're desperately looking for her, trying to find out any information, but everyone is mum and they've not been able to learn anything about her whereabouts.

LAM: So when was the last time someone had contact with her?

NOSSEL: Last Thursday, so about a week ago, April 23rd.

LAM: And who had contact with her?

NOSSEL: She was on her Twitter feed, which is normally active, and I believe she was also in touch with colleagues and her lawyer.

LAM: And Gao Yu is also a working journalist, isn't she and I think she contributes to world media as well. Can you please tell us about that?

NOSSEL: She does, she contributes regularly to Deutsche Welle, the German publication and she's often quoted in international media, so she's very active. She contributed an essay to a report on China that we published last year.

LAM: Indeed. And what did she have to say about media constraints in China, in that essay?

NOSSEL: Well, she talks about the Communist Party and their hold on public debate. The repressive measures that they've taken against journalists and dissidents, so she's fairly outspoken, she's not somebody who has towed any kind of line, she's been very independent her whole career, she's won awards for her independence, she's stood up and reported on Tiananmen Square 25 years ago and was arrested then.

So she is somebody who is known for her courage and her openness and for pushing the envelope a little bit.

LAM: So she would be firmly on the radar of the Chinese authorities. If indeed, she has been detained, why do you think now?

NOSSEL: Well, we're one month out from the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square and certainly, the Chinese government is very focused on that and they've sent out warnings and delivered warnings to other dissidents and journalists, saying keep quiet, don't talk about it.

They've been on a campaign now for 25 years to suppress awareness and discussion of Tiananmen, they don't teach children about Tiananmen. So they're doing what they can to have this anniversary pass with as little notice, attention and foment as possible and so they may have detained her as a warning signal to others.

LAM: And indeed, PEN America thinks that this Chinese practice of silencing critics through intimidation is less effective than ever. Can you elaborate on that?

NOSSEL: Well, it's become more difficult, because of social media.

Those Chinese sites, those are heavily censored, of course, but it's difficult even for them to keep up with the pace of the volume of posts and tweets in a country now where 625-million people are on social media, they're all kinds of code words that are used to veil messages and get messages across. They are also a whole range of technologies that allow people to jump the fire walls so that Chinese writers and citizens are on services like Twitter, even when they're banned in China.

So keeping a lid on a country that's this large and diverse with so many new platforms for communication and expression becomes ever more difficult.

LAM: And, of course, Gao Yu is not the only one punished for speaking out in China. Her famous colleague, Liu Xiaobo went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and he's still in jail. What news does Pen America have of him?

NOSSEL: Yeah, he remains in jail, he's been jailed now for more than four years. He's seeking to bring, initiate a new appeal to his case. His wife, Liu Xia has been under house arrest since he received the Nobel Prize and she's kept under very strict isolation, with very few visitors, very few opportunities to leave her home. So it's incredibly repressive situation.

We also have a new case that we're very concerned about, which is that of Ilham Tohti, who is a Uighur scholar and economist and a professor at a university in Beijing. He ran a web site called Uighur online, that was for dialogue between the Uighur and the Han Chinese and he's been under scrutiny and harassed for some years.

He was arrested at his home in January. He's now being held in-communicado with no access to a lawyer and has been charged with separatism, so we're very concerned about his case as well. He was picked up in front of his two young children, ages four and seven years-old, who were just devastated and saw their house ransacked and their father dragged away.

And last year, he drafted a statement, which he released on Radio Free Asia where he talks about his grave fear that he is going to be arrested, that the government may fake a suicide. He says I'm in good health. I would never commit suicide. I would never betray the cause of the Uighur people, so if any words are put into my mouth or there is any report of an incident, be very suspicious, be on alert.

And here we are less than a year later, and he's been held in-communicado. We don't have good information about he's well-being. So, to hear his words reflecting on the danger that he thinks he's under, and now to know that those fears have been borne out, is just chilling.

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