The press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders has included four Chinese citizens in its first ever list of the world’s 100 “information heroes”.
In a telling reflection of China’s media landscape, none of them are currently working at a media organisation.
The only one of the four who is not facing persecution had been fired from his job and faced alleged death threats and kidnapping attempts.
Li Jianjun has for years pointed to corruption at the top of the state-owned China Resources conglomerate. The former investigative reporter at the Shanxi Evening Post was vindicated earlier this month, when the chairman, Song Lin, and two leading executives were placed under investigation by Communist Party discipline inspectors in a graft probe.
The other Chinese journalist included in the list is Liu Hu, a reporter for the Guangzhou-based Modern Express. He is currently in pre-trial detention in Beijing awaiting a trial on charges of defamation. The muckraking reporter had shared corruption allegations against senior government officials on his Weibo microblog.
The only Tibetan to be included in the list released on Tuesday is monk Jigme Gyatso, who, along with Dhondup Wangchen, secretly shot the documentary Leaving Fear Behind ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Their film showed Tibetans expressing their frustration with Chinese governance and migration of ethnic Han Chinese to Tibetan areas.
Jigme was last reported to have been detained in Qinghai province on unknown charges in 2012, Tibetan exile media reported. He has been missing since, according to Reporters Without Borders. Dhondup is currently serving a six-year prison sentence on subversion charges.
The fourth "information hero" to be included is Huang Qi, an award-winning human rights activist based in Chengdu who founded the country’s first human rights news website, 64tianwang. Since the early 1990s the website has carried reports documenting human rights violations in China. Huang has served two prison terms totalling eight years for his activism since 2000.
Huang was detained again last month on charges of “stirring trouble” for sharing reports of the alleged self-immolation of a protester on Tiananmen Square in Beijing on March 5. He was released on bail on April 11.
While sharing information in China remains difficult, Huang said he was optimistic about the future. “Millions dare to use their names to post messages online,” he told the South China Morning Post on Wednesday. “There are ever more different voices on microblogs, forums and websites.”
The Reporters Without Borders list also included Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the two journalists who have been instrumental in releasing information on American cyber-espionage leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden last year, after he fled to Hong Kong.