Top editors of Apple Daily were arrested for pursuing journalism, which China found not in commensurate with Hong Kong’s national security law

Days after the joint statement issued by G-7 countries said: “We are at a critical juncture, facing threats to freedom and democracy from rising authoritarianism…,” China-backed administration in Hong Kong conducted a raid at pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily on June 17 and arrested its chief editor and four other senior executives. They were charged for publishing articles that violated Hong Kong’s new security law.

China has been severely criticized for its move to muzzle the press freedom under the garb of threat to national security. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the raid was aimed at silencing dissent in Hong Kong.

However, this is not the first time when press freedom has been attacked by China. Rather records show that China has become the worst place for journalists to work in. It has arrested or expelled a number of journalists in recent times.

This year on March 1, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) issued a statement, maintaining that China had used coronavirus prevention measures, intimidation and visa curbs to limit foreign reporting in 2020, ushering in a rapid decline in media freedom.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2020 report, more than 40 journalists were jailed last year in China for covering coronavirus cases in Wuhan in Hubei province. Whereabouts of independent video journalist Zhang Zhan, who was arrested last year on May 14 for posting reports from Wuhan on Twitter and YouTube is still unknown.

Li Zehua, a blog writer in Wuhan who had gone missing since March 2020, reappeared in April for a brief moment and then has gone missing again. Similarly, the fate of Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin-both independent journalists is yet to be ascertained, despite their family members moving from pillar to post, trying every bit of contacts they have to know whether they are alive or not.

In 2020, Chinese authorities arrested Haze Fan, a Chinese national working for Bloomberg News. In the same year, Cheng Lei, an Australian citizen of Chinese origin working as a TV presenter for Chinese state media outlet CGTN was arrested on charges of supplying state secrets overseas.

She was the second Australian journalist to be jailed after blogger Yang Hengjun, who has been held on espionage charges since January 2019.

The fate of several foreign journalists who were arrested for reporting from the far western Xinjiang region, where China has been accused of large-scale human rights abuses, is unknown.

In September 2020, Australia helped two of its foreign correspondents—Bill Birtles of the ABC and Mike Smith of The Australian Financial Review---leave China after they were questioned by the country’s security agency personnel. On December 16, 2020, Du Bin, a journalist working as a freelance photographer for the New York Times, was arrested on a flimsy charge of picking quarrels and provoking trouble.

In fact, ongoing tension between Australia and China on the one hand and the US and China on the other hand, has further aggravated the situation for journalists from these countries. Eryk Bagshaw, appointed as China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, has been unable to take up his assignment in Beijing as China has not given him a visa.

The Wall Street Journal correspondent Phil Wen, who is by nationality an Australian and New York Times correspondent Chris Buckley were forced to leave China earlier this year as authorities refused to extend their visas.

Correspondents of US-based news outlets---the Journal, CNN, Getty Images and Bloomberg News have been told by the Chinese authorities that their press credentials will not be renewed.

As many as 13 reporters were given press credentials valid for 6 months or less, though, foreign correspondents working in China usually get one-year visas; they have to renew them annually. But China, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, has turned cruel against media persons.

Authorities arrest journalists and activists without providing any credible information to suggest that these individuals have committed recognizable crime or offenses. On baseless charges, any journalist is arrested and thrust behind the bars.

These slew of arrests and deliberate moves to create hurdles in the flow of information about the situation in China, has impacted credibility of Beijing. Yet the Chinese leadership, it seems, has not tried to read the writing on the wall.