A Paris-based press freedom group on Thursday called on the European Union (EU) to initiate sanctions against state media controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, in the wake of a string of televised "confessions" by detained rights activists and dissidents.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) wants the EU to implement sanctions against China Central Television (CCTV) and the state news agency Xinhua over a string of recent broadcasts of televised "confessions."
"RSF is appalled by the growth of this practice by China’s state media, which poses an alarming threat to freely reported news and information," the group said in a statement on Thursday.
Recent detainees paraded on CCTV in prerecorded "confession" videos include Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai, owner of the Mighty Current imprint and Causeway Bay Books.
The publishing houses are popular with mainland Chinese tourists for their selection of political books that are banned across the internal border in mainland China.
Gui, who holds a Swedish passport, appeared on CCTV on Sunday confessing to having killed a student in a drunk-driving accident, after disappearing while he was on vacation in Thailand.
Just three days later, Swedish national and China-based human rights worker Peter Dahlin appeared on CCTV, apologizing for "hurting the feelings of the Chinese people."
Dahlin, who founded the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group to help train rights lawyers and other activists, was accused by Xinhua of "encouraging the masses to oppose the government."
"We are outraged by the dissemination of forced ‘confessions’ that have no informational value," RSF Asia-Pacific spokesman Benjamin Ismaïl said in a statement on the group's website.
"By knowingly peddling lies and statements [that] were presumably obtained under duress, CCTV and Xinhua become mass propaganda weapons and cease de facto to be news media," Ismaïl said.
He added: "These two organizations represent a threat to freely produced news in the public interest. We call on the European Union to urgently adopt a resolution sanctioning these practices."
According to RSF, there is precedent for the EU to adopt sanctions against a media organization that uses forced confessions, because they violate the right of detainees to a fair trial.
Recent reports of the growing international reach of Chinese media organizations have sparked fears that such practices could exert a chilling effect on freedom of expression globally—especially on topics concerning China.
U.S.-based veteran rights activist Yang Jianli said the practice shows that the administration of President Xi Jinping has scant respect for due process.
"This sort of political show trial is against the law," Yang said. "He thinks that the slightest action on the part of his citizens is more of a threat to him than corruption."
"The final outcome will be an ever-widening gap between government and people, and eventually he will be public enemy No. 1," he said.
Veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu, who also appeared in a "confession" on CCTV before being jailed for "leaking state secrets overseas," later said that the confession was forced from her when the Chinese threatened her son.
She was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, which was reduced on appeal to five years, and is currently serving her jail time outside prison on medical grounds.
Other detainees have reported being offered more lenient sentences in return for "pleading guilty" and showing a "cooperative attitude."
The practice has most frequently been used against journalists in recent years.
In May 2014, independent journalist Xiang Nanfu appeared on CCTV 13 confessing to "smearing the party and government," while New Express journalist Chen Yongzhou also confessed in a video aired in November 2013.
In the same month, CCTV producer Wang Qinglei was dismissed from his post after criticizing the state broadcaster over a "confession" by "Big V" social media commentator Charles Xue.
China is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the 2015 RSF press freedom index.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by He Ping for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.