* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
As Chinese President Xi Jinping begins a three-day official visit to France today, Reporters Without Borders condemns China's growing harassment of journalists and its mistreatment of cyber-dissidents and activists who try to expose the constant human rights violations and persecution of human rights defenders.
Xi Jinping is visiting France for the first time since becoming Communist Party general secretary in November 2012 and president in March 2013. In the year since his installation, China has tightened its grip on news and information considerably, stepping up the daily censorship directives to the media as well as arrests of journalists and cyber-dissidents.
China is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders published in February and is more deserving than ever of inclusion in the Reporters Without Borders list of Enemies of the Internet, the latest version of which was issued earlier this month.
At least 74 netizens, including Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, and 30 journalists are currently detained in China, making it the world's biggest prison for news providers.
The government has stepped up its news control, which is reflected in the daily dispatch of dozens of directives to all the media by the propaganda department. The authorities accuse the media of "endemic corruption" while revelations about corruption within the Communist Party have also prompted frequent accusations of rumour mongering.
According to a legal "interpretation" issued jointly by the supreme court and public prosecutor's office in September, any "defamatory" or "rumour-spreading" online content that is viewed more than 5,000 times or re-posted more than 500 times can result in a sentence of up to three years in prison for the person who originally posted it.
Liu Hu, a journalist with the Guangzhou-based daily Xin Kuai Bao (Modern Express) was officially charged with defamation a few weeks later, in October, after 37 days in provisional detention. On his Weibo account, the journalist had urged the authorities to investigate an official suspected of corruption.
Combined with increased Internet censorship and surveillance and a recent wave of arrests of cyber-dissidents such as Guo Feixiong and Xu Zhiyong, who were detained for "disturbing public order," this methodically organized campaign against the media is likely to result in an unprecedented level of self-censorship in China.
"The results of Xi Jinping's first year as president are very damning," said Benjamin Ismail, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. "We are currently witnessing one of the biggest crackdowns on news providers since the 2008 Olympics. Looser controls are clearly no long on agenda. Instead the government wants to impose a new order on the media."
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire added: "The European Union's leaders, its member states and France in particular must include human rights and freedom of information on the agenda of talks with their Chinese counterparts. Any abdication in the promotion of fundamental freedoms could lead to much harsher government policies towards news providers in China."
Reporters Without Borders calls on President Xi Jinping to undertake to:End censorship of news and information, online and offline. Immediately release imprisoned news providers. Stop the intimidation, harassment, surveillance and arrests of journalists, bloggers, dissidents and their families. Repeal the laws and regulations that are used to censor the media and the Internet and to arrest news providers. Respect media freedom, which is enshrined in China's constitution. <br/>