Bloomberg News staffer detained, Jimmy Lai charged on vague national security grounds as Beijing stifles news media

Foreign Affairs

“Endangering national security” is the reason for the detention of a Bloomberg staffer in Beijing, and the charge against a newspaper boss in Hong Kong, as Xi Jinping’s government continues an intensifying crackdown on news media in China.

haze fan chain
A screenshot from Haze Fan’s Twitter account

“In two strokes unveiled on Friday, the Chinese Communist Party laid out in stark relief the rapidly shrinking space for speech and independent journalism in China,” say Vivian Wang and Chris Buckley of the New York Times. These are the two strokes:

Bloomberg Beijing staffer detained on national security charges  

Unidentified Chinese security agents “have detained Haze Fan, who works for the Bloomberg News bureau in Beijing, on suspicion of endangering national security,” reports Bloomberg. She was last seen “being escorted from her apartment building by plain clothes security officials” on Monday this week.

“Endangering national security” is a charge frequently used by the Chinese government to detain journalists, academics, and activists.

  • Fan’s family was informed of her detention within 24 hours, while Bloomberg “received confirmation” that Fan is being held on national security charges yesterday.
  • “We have been doing our best to try and find out exactly where she is, what’s happened, to try and get her back,” said (video) Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwaithe.

Fan is a Chinese citizen, which means that she cannot legally work as a reporter or journalist, but only as a “news assistant.” In practice, many “news assistants” do some of the best reporting by foreign news organizations in China.

  • Fan has worked for Bloomberg since 2017, and has previous experience with a number of other news organizations, including CNBC and Reuters.
  • Fan’s recent work, according to Bloomberg’s website, includes stories on the Ant Group IPO suspension, the Evergrande real estate group, and China’s recent wave of bond defaults.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai charged under Hong Kong’s security law

Hong Kong authorities today charged 73-year-old democracy activist and media mogul Jimmy Lai “with colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security, a crime punishable by life imprisonment under Beijing’s recently imposed national security law,” his own Apple Daily reported.

  • Lai (黎智英 Lí Zhìyīng, Lai4 Zi3 Jing1) is a longtime critic of Beijing, and has been in the Chinese government’s crosshairs since the imposition of the national security law in June.  

The national security law stipulates “that a suspect may be tried before mainland courts ‘under three specific circumstances,’ including when the case involves foreign force,” notes the Apple Daily, meaning that Lai could be “extradited to face trial before Communist Party-controlled judges.”  

  • Lai “would be the highest-profile person charged under the sweeping new law imposed on the Chinese-ruled city in June,” says Reuters.