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Foreign correspondents' clubs call for answers after arrest of Chinese Bloomberg employee

FCCs around Asia raise alarm over worsening landscape for journalists in China

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Bloomberg employee Haze Fan (Internet image)

Bloomberg employee Haze Fan (Internet image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — In the wake of the arrest of a Chinese employee of Bloomberg News in Beijing, foreign correspondents' clubs throughout Asia have joined a chorus of international voices demanding an explanation and calling attention to the worsening landscape for media workers in the authoritarian country.

Four days after the disappearance of Bloomberg news assistant Haze Fan (范若伊), Chinese authorities informed the outlet on Dec. 11 that she was being held on suspicion of "engaging in criminal activities that jeopardize China's national security." She was reportedly seen leaving her apartment under escort by plainclothes officers of the National Security Bureau last Monday (Dec. 7).

She had worked at a number of major news agencies before joining Bloomberg in 2017, including Al Jazeera, CBS News, CNBC, and Reuters.

On Tuesday (Dec. 15), the foreign correspondents' organizations of Japan, Hong Kong, Jakarta, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand published a joint statement supporting the Foreign Correspondent's Club of China's attempt to suss out the reason for Fan's sudden arrest. The statement emphasized that Chinese employees play "invaluable roles" in international media operations in the country.

The European Union on Saturday (Dec. 12) expressed concern about Fan's well-being and that of Chinese citizen journalists known or assumed to be detained in China for their efforts to cover the coronavirus outbreak, including Zhang Zhan (張展), Fang Bin (方斌), and Chen Qiushi (陳秋實). EU Spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said the bloc expects Fan to be allowed access to medical care, her family, and an attorney of her choosing and insisted that Fan and all others "detained in connection with their reporting activity" be freed.

Chinese officials remain circumspect about the nature of Fan's alleged criminal activities.

When asked for an update on her status by a Bloomberg reporter at a regular press conference Monday (Dec. 14), Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) repeated the vague government line about Fan's alleged national security offense and claimed her "legal rights and interests are fully ensured."

Wang also responded to the statement by the European Union, demanding that the latter "respect China's judicial sovereignty and stop making irresponsible remarks."

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in China, the country, which strictly controls the flow of domestic news and online information within its borders, has redoubled its efforts to further shrink the space in which international media companies can operate. Earlier this year it expelled The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

Press freedom is also under attack in Hong Kong, which has long enjoyed independent reporting under the "one country, two systems" framework promised for 50 years after the British handover. A growing number of foreign correspondents in that city have reported unexplained delays to their visa renewal applications.

As for local media figures, the Hong Kong authorities were accused of a disproportionate, politically motivated response when they arrested a producer at public broadcaster RTHK for allegedly giving false information while she conducted research for a documentary about last year's assault on MTR passengers by pro-Beijing thugs. Meanwhile, outspoken Apply Daily founder Jimmy Lai (黎智英) has been charged with colluding with foreign forces, an offense introduced in the new national security law that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.