China, a global leader in censorship operations, remains near the bottom of global press freedom rankings, the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its annual report, amid a global "tipping point" for the freedom of information.
Calling the head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, President Xi Jinping, the world's "leading censor and press freedom predator," RSF said Xi had succeeded in establishing total control over news coverage in China, which is now ranked 176th out of 180 nations for press freedom.
More than 100 journalists and bloggers are currently behind bars in China, including three former winners of RSF press freedom awards: Huang Qi, founder of the Sichuan-based rights website Tianwang, and bloggers Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu.
Li Tingyu, who has been held in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture Detention Center on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" since last June, was recently tried in secret by the Dali People's Court on April 20, according to her lawyer Ge Yongxi.
Li was detained at the same time as her boyfriend Lu Yuyu, who ran a blog under the social media handle @wickedonnaa, but her case is being dealt with separately from his and she may be handed a suspended jail term in return for a "confession," Ge said.
Ge said both bloggers, who compiled meticulous, publicly available lists of more than 30,000 "mass incidents" that never get reported in the country's tightly controlled state media, are innocent.
"There's really nothing to see here," he said. "All they did was research the facts."
Li was forced under intense political pressure to drop out of a translation and interpretation degree at Guangzhou's prestigious Zhongshan University after publishing articles out of the reach of Chinese government internet censors.
A former migrant worker, Lu had been previously detained for short periods in Shanghai and Guangzhou for "illegal assembly," and began compiling statistics of public protests and unrest in October 2012 under the title Fei Xinwen, or "Not the News."
A relative of Li's who declined to be named said she is expected to be released soon, but declined to give further details.
Lu, on the other hand, may face tougher treatment if he refuses to "confess," his lawyer Huang Simin told RFA.
But both lawyers said that even if Li is released from detention, she may yet face very strong curbs on her freedom.
During the past two years, citizen journalists, bloggers, and human rights activists, including foreign ones, have been arrested and forced into "confession," RSF said in its report, carried on its website.
"There has been no improvement in the press freedom situation in China, which is now 176th in the rankings," RSF's East Asia director Benjamin Ismail said.
"As the Chinese Communist Party tries to promote its global clout in terms of trade and economic influence, it is at the same time stepping up its persecution domestically of journalists, bloggers and human rights lawyers," Ismail said.
By contrast, the democratic island of Taiwan—which China claims as an inalienable part of its territory—came top in regional press rankings, in 45th place overall, two spots below the United States.
Meanwhile, China's neighbor and Stalinist ally North Korea ranked last. The country's "totalitarian regime continues to keep its citizens in a state of ignorance and fear of being sent to a concentration camp for listening to radio broadcasts from outside the country," RSF said.
It said the latest index highlights the danger of a "tipping point" in the state of media freedom, especially in leading democratic countries.
It said the U.S. fell from 41st to 43rd position, while the U.K. also dropped two places from 38th to 40th. In both cases RSF cited an "obsession with surveillance and violations of the right to the confidentiality of sources."
Reported by Xi Wang for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.