Bizarrely, when it comes to reigning in this particular brutal Chinese regime, Ofcom has unprecedented powerby Olivia Utley / January 23, 2019 / Leave a comment
In the next couple of months, CCTV—Chinese State TV—is set to open the world’s biggest foreign news bureau in Chiswick Park, London. The London hub will be the jewel in the crown of CCTV’s Europe expansion, occupying a 3,000 sq foot building and employing over 300 London-based writers. For demoralised and underpaid UK journalists, the jobs—which offer the opportunity to “tell China’s story well” for a hefty salary—look like glittering opportunities. One department has already had 6,000 applicants for 90 positions, and the deadline isn’t until February.
So, what’s the catch? Well, it’s a big one. CCTV stands accused of assisting the Chinese police in extracting forced and falsified “confessions” in front of its TV cameras. According to Safeguard Defenders, a human rights NGO in Asia, there have been 45 confirmed forced televised confessions in China between 2013 and 2018—but the true figure is thought to be much, much higher. Almost all are aired before a formal conviction, violating Chinese law asserting a presumption of innocence.
Last month, I met Peter Humphrey, a UK citizen who was imprisoned in China in 2013 after being denied a fully public trial and at some points full access to lawyers. He was, he explains, forced to make two such confessions. Since his release five years ago, he has been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, and the telltale signs are visible when he speaks.
“At 7am the police flooded in, kicking our bedroom door into my face,” he explains. “From that moment on, things moved ruthlessly fast: they ransacked the office, dismissed my staff, separated my wife and me from each other, and both of us from our teenage son Harvey. It would be two years before we were reunited.”
He was cuffed, led away, and flung into a tiny, dank interrogation cell, with twelve other occupants. After days with barely any food or water, he was dragged from his makeshift bed by a prison officer (“prisoners were always interrogated at night, it made them weaker, easier to break”) and asked to “meet the media.”
Confused, disorientated but certain of his innocence, he says he eventually agreed to speak to one or two print journalists in the hope it would help his situation—but refused point blank to be put on camera. He was then forced to drink a glass of something which he later realised contained a sedative and shoved into a large cage. With…