#MeToo activist and reporter covering Hong Kong protest detained: One Free Press Coalition

Journalist Sophia Xueqin Huang was detained in Guangzhou in October on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after covering the extended and ongoing unrest in Hong Kong this year. PHOTO: INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S MEDIA FOUNDATION

December is a festive month for many.

But for Chinese feminist and independent journalist Sophia Xueqin Huang, who was covering the Hong Kong protests, she will spend the season under "residential surveillance", said @FreeXueqin, a Twitter account set up to campaign for Ms Huang's release.

After protests in the special administrative region were sparked by a controversial and since-withdrawn extradition Bill, Ms Huang posted two essays online about her experience participating in rallies, Time magazine reported.

In one of her essays, she wrote that she was attending the rally "with the intention of giving voice to, participating, bearing witness and recording history."

She also voiced how her pictures of the June 9 parade and comments she posted online about the protests had been censored on WeChat and Weibo.

The 30-year-old was detained in October in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou and charged with "picking quarrels and provoking trouble".

It is unclear if her activity or essays were related to her arrest.

She is one of 10 on this month's list of "10 Most Urgent" cases of journalists under attack who will spend the end of the year either detained or dead.

The list is compiled by the One Free Press (OFP) Coalition, a group that comprises pre-eminent editors and publishers who safeguard journalists persecuted for pursuing the truth.

The Chinese journalist was a leading activist in China's #MeToo movement after she went public in 2017 about her experience with workplace sexual harassment.

To counter the rising threat to media freedom, the OFP Coalition was established during a meeting of the International Media Council at the World Economic Forum in March.

The Straits Times joined the alliance in May.

Researcher with Human Rights Watch Yaqiu Wang said in a statement that Ms Huang originally planned to pursue a postgraduate degree in law at the University of Hong Kong in September, but was summoned by Guangzhou police and had her passport confiscated before she was able to do so.

The alleged crime could mean five years in prison for the former Xinquaibao and Southern Metropolis Weekly investigative reporter.

On a more positive note, Nazli Ilicak, a Turkish journalist featured on the August edition of One Free Press Coalition's "10 Most Urgent" list, was released during a retrial in early November.

Ms Ilicak, along with several other journalists, had previously been sentenced to life without parole for allegedly using their journalism to aid the network of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Here are nine other cases mentioned in this month's list, in no particular order:

Qazi Shibli, India

Mr Shibli reported on increased troop deployments into the Kashmir region and he has been held on charges including "waging war against the Union of India," and "creating fear and panic among common people". PHOTO: QAZI UMAIR

For Kashmiriyat editor Qazi Shibli, it marks his fifth month in detainment. The 29-year-old disappeared on July 25, three months after police had accused him of publishing "anti-national" news articles, said HuffPost. According to Kashmir Walla, Mr Shibli was detained in connection with his tweets, which included the leaking of an official order regarding the deployment of additional paramilitary troopers across Jammu and Kashmir. He is now imprisoned about 1,000km out of state, and his family has hired a lawyer to help file a petition for bail.

Luis Carlos Diaz, Venezuela

After Luis Carlos Diaz was detained for more than 24 hours in March, Venezuelan prosecutors needed to present evidence supporting charges of "public instigation" by Nov 12 or the case against Mr Diaz could be closed. The decision is still pending, leaving the dual Spanish citizen and Union Radio News reporter prohibited from leaving the country or speaking publicly about his detention and expected to report to intelligence agents every week. In addition to arrest, officials raided his apartment, confiscating or stealing money, computers, phones and personal items.

Svetlana Prokopyeva, Russia

Ms Prokopyeva was accused of "publicly inciting terrorism" and is facing up to seven years in jail on terrorism-related charges. PHOTO: SVETLANA PROKOPYEVA/FACEBOOK

The past year has brought continued attacks against Pskov-based stringer Svetlana Prokopyeva, a freelance contributor for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who reported a story about a young man who detonated a bomb inside a government building. Ms Prokopyeva was accused of "publicly inciting terrorism", was placed on a list of "terrorists and extremists" and endured a raid of her home, seizure of possessions and her passport and freezing of bank accounts. She is facing up to seven years in jail on terrorism-related charges. Reporters covering her case are now being harassed too.

Hamid al-Mahdaoui, Morocco

An editor and reporter for Moroccan online news outlet Badil, Mr Hamid al-Mahdaoui has served half of a three-year sentence for "failure to denounce a crime threatening national security" while travelling to cover anti-corruption protests in 2017. His lawyer calls the charge baseless, stemming from an unsolicited call received from someone claiming to be smuggling weapons. The sentence was upheld this year, and Mr al-Mahdaoui has gone on hunger strike and been denied medicine, nutritious food and access to a doctor.

Sofiane Merakchi, Algeria

Mr Sofiane Merakchi was arrested in September at his personal office in Algiers. PHOTO: SOFIANE MERAKCHI/FACEBOOK

Since February, Algerian authorities have expelled or suspended journalists covering protests. Mr Sofiane Merakchi, a freelance correspondent for Beirut-based TV channel Al Mayadeen and other foreign news agencies, was arrested in September at his personal office in Algiers, and his Nov 15 hearing for charges of "evading customs and tax" was postponed.

Esraa Abdel Fattah, Egypt

At least seven journalists have been arrested in Egypt since anti-government protests began in September, including Ms Esraa Abdel Fattah, a reporter and social media coordinator focused on human rights violations for banned website Tahrir News. She was charged with spreading false news, membership in a banned group and abuse of social-media networks (all which she denies) and jailed pending investigation. Two pro-government outlets accused her of lying about officials beating, hanging and choking her.

Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia

Jamal Khashoggi was visiting the consulate to obtain divorce papers on Oct 2, 2018, so that he could marry his then fiancee, when a Saudi hit squad subdued and dismembered him. PHOTO: AFP

At least six corporate heads, including that of JPMorgan Chase and Google Cloud, decried Saudi Arabia this year, and Amazon's CEO appeared at a memorial service marking one year since the death of Mr Jamal Khashoggi inside the Kingdom's Istanbul consulate. All of this comes as the White House has skirted the subject and repeated pressure to launch an independent criminal investigation into the Saudi crown prince's alleged involvement in the brazen killing of the Washington Post columnist.

Azimjon Askarov, Kyrgyzstan

The Kyrgyz court upholds the life sentence of award-winning journalist Azimjon Askarov for documenting human rights abuses. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SON SHERZOD ASKAROV

Award-winning journalist Azimjon Askarov has spent nine years in prison on trumped-up charges for reporting on human-rights violations. Letters from home have described run-ins with guards, detainee punishment after visiting days, Mr Askarov's deteriorating health and limited access to medication. Despite persistent international condemnation, a Kyrgyz court ruled to uphold his life sentence in July.

Azory Gwanda,Tanzania

Azory Gwanda, who was working in rural Tanzania, has been missing since Nov 21, 2017. PHOTO: MWANANCHI PUBLICATIONS LIMITED

More than two years ago, freelance journalist Mr Azory Gwanda went missing in Tanzania after investigating rural mysterious killings. The government has failed to conduct an investigation or disclose any knowledge of his whereabouts. In July, Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi said in an interview that Gwanda had "disappeared and died" but backtracked amid requests for clarification.

This is the tenth list released by the OFP Coalition. The coalition's other members include the Associated Press, Al Jazeera Media Network, Bloomberg News, The Boston Globe, Buzzfeed, Huff Post (formerly The Huffington Post), Insider Inc, Quartz, Time, Voice of America, The Washington Post, Wired and Yahoo News.

European members include CNN Money Switzerland, Corriere Della Sera, De Standaard, Deutsche Welle, Euractiv, Le Temps, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Republik, Reuters and Suddeutsche Zeitung.

From Asia, The Financial Times, India Today, Middle East Broadcasting Networks and Radio Free Asia have joined the network together with The Straits Times, while those from the rest of the Americas are AmericaEconomia, Estadao, Office of Cuba Broadcasting and TV Azteca.

Members of the public can join the conversation using the hashtag #OneFreePress and follow developments on Twitter @OneFreePress. To see the "10 Most Urgent" list every month, readers can visit www.onefreepresscoalition.com or @OneFreePress on Twitter.

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