China's ruling Chinese Communist Party held 23 journalists and 84 bloggers behind bars during 2015, as the country fell yet another place in theGlobal Press Freedom Index this year, a Paris-based press freedom group said.
The majority of online writers detained or imprisoned in 2015 were either Tibetan bloggers or reporters for the Sichuan-based rights group Tianwang, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its end-of-year report.
Many on the list were from ethnic minority groups, including Tibetans, mostly Muslim Uyghurs and Mongolians.
Tibetan bloggers Lhundup, Rithat, Druklo (Shokjang) and Yonten Rabgyal were among those held between March and May, while freedom of speech activist Wu Gan and Tianwang contributors Yang Dongying, Zhang Jixin, Lian Huanli, Wu Youming and Wang Jing were detained between January and June, it said.
Chinese authorities detained Wang Xiaolu, a journalist with the cutting-edge Caijing magazine, and allowed 71-year-old dissident journalist Gao Yu to serve her sentence outside prison for health reasons, cutting it from seven to five years in the process.
Jailed journalists also include New Express reporter Chen Yongzhou, held on suspicion of "fabricating facts" in more than a dozen articles alleging financial irregularities at heavy machinery manufacturing company Zoomlion.
Some of China's imprisoned journalists have been behind bars since the beginning of the century, while a large group of mostly Tibetan journalists was jailed in 2005, the report said.
It also listed Uyghur journalists Nurmemet Yasin, Korash Huseyin, media translator Abdulghani Memetemin and Mongolian dissident writer Hada, who has since been released from jail, but with tight police restrictions on his sources of income and liberty.
China wants only mouthpieces
Chinese dissident author, journalist and 2010 Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, currently serving a 13-year jail term for "incitement to subvert state power," is also on the list.
RSF also hit out at Beijing's refusal to extend the work permit of Beijing-based French journalist Ursula Gauthier, after she questioned the official line on Chinese counter-terrorism policies in the western region of Xinjiang.
Gauthier's Nov. 18 story titled "After the [Paris] attacks, China’s solidarity is not without ulterior motives," accused the government of using the threat of jihadism as pretexts for cracking down on opposition in Xinjiang.
"We are shocked by the Chinese authorities’ decision to expel this journalist, who has been based in China for several years," RSF editor in chief Aude Rossigneux said in a statement on the group's website.
"The government is yet again putting pressure on journalists who criticize its policies," Rossigneux said. "It is not the job of correspondents to act as mouthpieces of the People’s Republic of China."
The group said foreign journalists and their local fixers and translators continue to face harassment, obstruction and intimidation attempts by the Chinese authorities.
It said several foreign journalists were manhandled and prevented from working freely after deadly chemical warehouse explosions in the port city of Tianjin in August.
Freelance journalist Huang Jinqiu said Chinese journalists can only hope to make a living if they write the sort of "positive" news required by the party's powerful propaganda department.
"[If you do that], you can live pretty well, but if you try to speak out on behalf of ordinary people and report on rights issues, then you risk all sorts, including possibly your life," Huang said.
"I know of one journalist who exposed the gutter oil scandal who died of multiple stab-wounds," he said.
"These things can happen if you get across the vested interests of certain departments, so of course journalists can be detained or persecuted too."
He said Gauthier's case was a case in point, because she had tried to exercise her right to freedom of speech.
Meanwhile, Liu Hu, a New Express reporter who was arrested in 2014 for "disseminating false information" and released "on bail" earlier this year, was denied compensation by the authorities last week after he lodged a claim over his lengthy detention, his lawyer told RFA on Wednesday.
"He absolutely has the right to do this; it was entirely in accordance with the law," Liu's lawyer Zhou Ze said. "The state prosecutor has basically told him not to claim compensation."
"To deny him the right to claim it, or to refuse to accept his application, is against the law."
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ka Pa and Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.