China jailed or detained a record number of journalists in 2015, more than any other country, and now holds a quarter of all journalists behind bars globally, a U.S.-based press freedom group said in a report.
According to an annual report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a total of 49 journalists are currently in jail amid an ongoing crackdown by President Xi Jinping.
The group said it had identified 199 journalists in prison because of their work in 2015, compared with 221 in the previous year.
According to CPJ, Xi's anti-corruption campaign and slowing economic growth have had an impact of Chinese journalists, partly because reporting on financial issues is considered politically "sensitive" in the wake of the stock market crash earlier this year.
It cited the case of Wang Xiaolu, a reporter for the Beijing-based business magazine Caijing, detained on Aug. 25 on suspicion of “colluding with others and fabricating and spreading false information about securities and futures trading” after he reported that a regulator was examining ways for securities companies to withdraw funds from the stock market.
Wang later appeared on state television saying that he "regretted" writing the story.
"Televised confessions are a tactic repeatedly deployed by Chinese authorities for dealing with journalists who cover sensitive stories," the group said in a statement on its website.
Hu Liyun, spokesperson for the International Journalists' Association, told RFA that the ruling Chinese Communist Party is increasing employing such tactics to control its already closely watched media.
"There is one thing common to all the cases of journalists being charged, sentenced or pleading guilty in recent years, and that is that the authorities have presented the case against them as a fait accompli, smearing their personal reputations," Hu said.
"[This] affects those still working in the industry, who are then more likely to self-censor, and this has a chilling effect on the whole of society," he said.
He said televised "confessions" are increasingly being used to denounce journalists who publish politically sensitive information, citing the case of veteran journalist Gao Yu, who was jailed for "leaking state secrets overseas" in May and then released last month to serve a shortened sentence at home.
Even if a journalist has served their time, or lives overseas, the authorities frequently resort to further retaliation to ensure they can never regain their former position, journalists told RFA.
Nanjing-based freelance journalist Jie Mu, who has himself been held under criminal detention for publishing stories considered sensitive by the Chinese Communist Party on Boxun, said he and his extended family are still being targeted for persecution as a result of his disgrace.
Jie, whose real name is Sun Lin, served a four-year jail term for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" and "illegal possession of a firearm" after he wrote about official abuse of power.
But while police have left him pretty much alone since his release in 2007, there are still huge restrictions on his ability to live a normal life, and his family has also suffered.
"They are persecuting me by economic means, because I have no income whatsoever, no welfare subsistence, no health insurance," Jie said. "I rely entirely on my brother and sister to support me. Even my in-laws have had all of their sources of income cut off."
"I can't buy tickets for travel with my ID, while any [fellow activists] who come here to see me get detained at the gate," he said.
Watched by police
Meanwhile, Hangzhou-based freelance journalist Zan Aizhong said he is unable to post articles online, because he has been placed under residential surveillance by state security police.
"It's not convenient for me to talk to you," Zan said, in an apparent indication that his conversations are being monitored. "The police are controlling me, so I can't talk."
"They are outside my home," he said. "They won't let me write articles. If I do, they summon me for questioning and search my home, and stuff like that."
CPJ also cited the case of RFA Uyghur Service journalist Shohret Hoshur, whose three brothers, Tudaxun, Shawket, and Rexim, have been jailed on subversion-related charges "in retaliation for Hoshur's work."
It said conditions for the media had also taken a turn for the worse in Egypt, which is holding 23 journalists, and Turkey, which is holding 14.
Reported by Ho Si-yuen for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.