It is important to remember that on sensitive stories, your Chinese contacts are usually more at risk than you. It is therefore your duty to take their safety into consideration.
WHAT RISKS DO SOURCES FACE?
Your approach could put interviewees at risk of detention or physical violence, especially if you raise issues the government considers taboo.
- Recent court cases against both a Uighur Webmaster and a Sichuan earthquake activist cited their remarks to foreign media
- A campaigner from Sichuan was paralyzed from the waist down in 2006 when thugs he says were linked to local officials beat him up after he spoke to German journalists.
- In 2007 farmer Yu Changwu from Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China was sentenced to two years of re-education through labor for speaking to foreign journalists about his campaign to recover and privatize farmland seized by the government. The charge was the government’s catchall “endangering state security.”
- Uighurs and Tibetans in particular have been detained — and in the case of one group sentenced to death — after expressing separatist sentiments.
Sources can be fearful, sometimes just because of living in a repressive society but sometimes with reason. Make sure people you speak to are fully informed about what you are doing. If they are not in a position to understand the risks they run, use your judgment to get the story out in a way that will not jeopardize anyone – weigh up editors’ demands for full names etc. with potential repercussions for the people you are quoting.
This is particularly the case with people from rural areas, with limited education, or in sensitive regions like Tibet where foreign media are rare and foreign reporters are even more heavily managed than in the rest of China.
IF A SOURCE FACES HARASSMENT
If you are very concerned that a source may be harassed after you leave but may not be able to tell you, you can arrange for them or a relative to e-mail or text you a pre-arranged message about an unrelated topic – their cows/children etc.– as a sign.
If a source is abused or threatened, contact your embassy, China’s Foreign Ministry, and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.
Public campaigns could include letters to China’s Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Public Security, as well as local mayors, the head of the local “First Bureau” and political security bureau.
Other potential contacts in case a source has been harassed, injured or detained:
- John Kamm of the Duihua Foundation (http://www.duihua.org), an advocate for political prisoners
- The Committee to Protect Journalists
- Reporters Without Borders
- Human Rights Watch
- Amnesty International
- Chinese Human Rights Defenders
- Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
- U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (www.cecc.gov)
For more details on steps to take to protect your sources and yourself, go to the Reporting and Traveling Safely section.