China and Russia Celebrate Arrests and Bans For Pro-Democracy Campaigners
Plus Russian media blasts Pakistan's involvement in Afghanistan while China blasts the EU's involvement in Taiwan
People’s Republic of China
#1: “27 Countries United To Attack China”
On September 2, the European Parliament released a report calling for enhanced relations with Taiwan including a bilateral investment agreement. People’s Daily, the official paper of the Central Committee of the CCP, quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesperson declaring that the report “seriously violates the one-China principle and undermines China-EU mutual trust.” State newswire China News Service called the report “flagrant interference in China's internal affairs.” Global Times, the tabloid of the Central Committee, called the move an example of “typical evil.” Ningshi International Hotspot, a nationalist blog, decried that “27 countries joined forces to attack China which enraged 1.4 billion people.”
VOA Chinese, part of the US-funded US Agency for Global Media, mocked Beijing for such an extreme reaction to a country as small as Lithuania, whose agreement to open an office for a Taiwan representative served as a prelude to the EU report. VOA quoted an American professor who said, “the ‘Lithuania Incident’ has indeed attracted more EU countries' attention to Taiwan.” BBC Chinese also pointed to the “Lithuania model” as a sign of events to come following the EU report.
#2: “Notorious Anti-China Group” Arrested in Hong Kong
On September 8, officials arrested members of Hong Kong Alliance, a pro-democracy foundation, for violating Hong Kong’s National Security Law. China News Service quoted a government spokesman who stated the arrests reflected “the common will of Hong Kong society to safeguard the rule of law and order” and responded to American criticism by accusing the US of “abus[ing] the name of national security to harm the legitimate rights and interests of other countries.” National state broadcaster CCTV reprinted a article from state newswire Xinhua celebrating the arrest of the “notorious anti-China group.” The Ministry of Public Affairs shared a video of the arrests with the exclamation “Caught!” and referred to the Alliance as “rioters.” South China Daily, part of Guangdong Provincial Committee’s propaganda department, reprinted a Xinhua article claiming the Alliance’s “collapse is the general trend and the people's desire.”
VOA Chinese denounced the arrests, quoting the Alliance’s Vice President who said authorities “did not mention any reason or evidence to explain why they accused us of being foreign agents.” BBC Chinese quoted Alliance members who called the arrests “intimidation of civil society.” RFA, also part of USAGM, tweeted an image of police confiscating the Alliance’s statue of democracy.
#3: Public Health Officials Must Take Action on COVID or Face Consequences
Nine public officials in Zhengzhou, a city of ten million in central China, faced disciplinary action for “ineffective epidemic prevention and control” according to the Henan News Broadcasting, part of the Henan Provincial Committee’s propaganda department. Party disciplinarians ousted the deputy mayor and director of health while censuring others after an outbreak of COVID on July 30. Southern Metropolis Daily, owned by the Guangdong Provincial Committee, reported on strict measures adopted by Guangzhou after the discovery of an asymptomatic case. The press conference at which officials announced the new measures was aired by Guangdong Radio and Television, Beijing Radio and Television, Guangzhou Daily, China News Service, and Inner Mongolia Radio and Television, among others. The Mainland officially reports having 756 cases, though many suspect the number to be much higher.
Opposition media did not report on this story
#1: Panjshir Falls to the Taliban
For the fourth straight week, the Taliban subjugation of Afghanistan led all stories in Russia. Russian media focused heavily on fighting in Panjshir, with 422 pieces published on resistance fighters this week. Moskovsky Komsomolets, owned by Pavel Gusev, the chair of the Public Council of the Ministry of Defense, reported on rumors that the Pakistani Air Force supported the Taliban in the capture of the Panjshir Valley, citing Sputnik, part of state-owned TV Novosti. Rosbalt, part of AFK Sistema whose owner heads the oligarchs’ union, Lenta.ru, owned by oligarch Vladimir Potanin’s Interros mining conglomerate, and Nezavisimaya Gazeta, tied to former Minister for Economic Development German Gref, all reported on Pakistan’s official denial of the claim while reminding readers of Pakistan’s extensive support for the Taliban. Pakistan’s support for the Taliban became especially prominent as the recent conquerors of Kabul fired on protestors outside the Pakistani embassy, as reported by RIA Novosti and RT, both part of state-owned TV Novosti.
Opposition media differed little from official sources in its lament of the fall of Panjshir and the aftermath. Kommersant, a leading business daily which maintains a liberal stance despite its ownership by Putin-ally Ali Usmanov, reported that the protests outside the Pakistani embassy followed a visit by the head of Inter-Service Intelligence, the Taliban’s main patron. Voice of America, part of the US-funded US Agency for Global Media, contested the claim of the conquest of Panjshir, pointing to multiple previous claims of conquering Panjshir by the Taliban that proved untrue and rebel leader Ahmad Massoud’s call to arms.
#2: United Russia Poised To Lose Vote Share In Upcoming Elections
On September 19, Russians head to the polls to elect the 450 members of the State Duma. VTsIOM, the leading pollster in Russia, predicts that the incumbent United Russia will receive 42% of the vote, the Communist Party 19%, and ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party 11%, and the socialist SRZP 8%, as reported by NTV, part of state-owned energy conglomerate Gazprom, and state newswire TASS. Channel 5, part of Putin ally Yuri Kovalchuk’s National Media Group, lauded a poll showing that 2/3 of Russians believe the election will be clean and free of fraud. Nezavisimaya Gazeta credited Putin’s generous pensions, increased military spending, and apt handling of COVID for his continued popularity. Smaller local papers lauded the accomplishments of United Russia with headlines like “Experts: United Russia is a party that works” in Transbaikal, “United Russia for a state that is convenient for a person!” in Omsk, “United Russia: Our Priority Is the Health of the Residents of Tver Oblast” in Tver, “The leaders of United Russia win the sympathy of voters,” in Rostov, and “Reputable Tyumen Associations Support United Russia” in Tyumen. Many local governments, especially in Omsk, reprinted the same story across multiple properties.
A guest on Ekho Moskvy, part of Gazprom but editorially independent, highlighted that 42% of the vote would be a near record low for United Russia, and pointed to numerous scandals that have been self-defeating for the party. The independent Novaya Gazeta uncovered a United Russia orchestrated pay-for-votes scandal at St. Petersburg State University, decrying the “rigged election.”
#3: Liberals Fail To Surmount Government Obstacles Ahead of Election
On September 7, the Roskomnadzor, the telecoms regulator, blocked access to the website of Smart Vote, which aimed to organize opponents of the Kremlin in the election. Activists associated with Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, designated an extremist organization, had promoted the website leading to its ban. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Vladimir Putin, said the decision was the regulator’s and out of the president’s hands, as reported in Lenta.ru and RIA Novosti. According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s leading newspaper and part of energy conglomerate ESN Group, Smart Voting’s website is still available by VPN, leading Rospotrebnadzor, the state consumer rights advocate, to warn failure by Google or Apple to remove VPNs from their mobile stores would amount to “election interference.” “Roskomnadzor warned foreign IT companies against interfering in Russian elections,” declared Gazeta, owned by the Central Bank.
Association with Navalny’s organization also led to the ban of multiple candidates in the upcoming election, including Lev Schlosberg, an award-winning journalist and campaigner against corruption. State newswire TASS was one of the few pro-government sources to report on the court’s decision, stating “Russian legislation establishes a temporary ban on being elected to all elective positions for the heads of organizations recognized by the court as extremist or terrorist” with no further explanation.
Voice of America lamented the lack of a liberal option in the upcoming elections and accused Putin of being unwilling to let Russians decide for themselves. Ekho Moskvy claimed the ban of Smart Voting would be a lasting embarrassment for United Russia while a separate piece explained Schlossberg’s dismissal resulted from a political rival accusing him of attending an impromptu rally in support of Navalny. The independent Novaya Gazeta blasted the move as “illegal” and “unconstitutional”.