Forced con­fes­sions – on UK TV

Vic­tims pa­raded in hand­cuffs for show tri­als beamed into Bri­tish homes – by China’s state broad­caster. The US says its staff are spies. So why ARE we let­ting Bei­jing spend mil­lions build­ing a huge UK op­er­a­tion?

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By Ben Ellery Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Wil­liam Lowther in Washington DC

ASHEN-FACED and man­han­dled by a burly po­lice­man, a Bri­tish fraud in­ves­ti­ga­tor thou­sands of miles from home ad­mits to trumped-up ‘crimes’ in a Chi­nese court­room be­fore be­ing sen­tenced to years in a hell­hole prison.

The chill­ing forced con­fes­sion from Peter Humphrey was seen on China’s state TV – but, shock­ingly, was also aired on the regime’s English-lan­guage news TV chan­nel broad­cast to mil­lions of homes in Bri­tain.

This is just one of many hor­rific in­stances of bru­tal­ity and bias that The Mail on Sun­day has found on Chi­nese Global Tele­vi­sion Net­work (CGTN) as Bei­jing pours vast sums of money into an enor­mous ex­pan­sion of the su­per­fi­cially re­spectable pro­pa­ganda out­let on Bri­tish soil. Our in­ves­ti­ga­tion has un­cov­ered: At least nine forced con­fes­sions by pris­on­ers pa­raded in Chi­nese court­rooms have been broad­cast in Bri­tain, only one of which has been in­ves­ti­gated by broad­cast­ing reg­u­la­tor Of­com;

De­spite claim­ing to be ob­jec­tive, CGTN news re­ports ig­nore crit­i­cism of China and its hu­man­rights record while flat­ter­ing au­to­cratic Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping;

In the US, se­cu­rity warn­ings have led the au­thor­i­ties to reg­is­ter CGTN and its employees as ‘for­eign agents’, yet in Bri­tain the chan­nel is still be­ing treated as an or­di­nary broad­caster.

The dis­turb­ing rev­e­la­tions about the chan­nel, which crit­ics have likened to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Putin’s mouth­piece TV net­work Rus­sia To­day, come amid grow­ing concern over China us­ing its huge wealth and tech­no­log­i­cal might to gain ever greater in­flu­ence abroad.

Last week, the head of MI6, Alex Younger, said: ‘We need to de­cide the ex­tent to which we are go­ing to be com­fort­able with Chi­nese own­er­ship of these tech­nolo­gies and these plat­forms in an en­vi­ron­ment where some of our al­lies have taken quite a def­i­nite po­si­tion.’ And just days ago the boss of Chi­nese tele­coms gi­ant Huawei – which has a piv­otal role in the next gen­er­a­tion mo­bile net­work Bri­tain will soon be us­ing – was ar­rested over sus­pi­cions of fraud.

Mr Humphrey’s court­room or­deal in 2013 came af­ter he ar­rived in China to in­ves­ti­gate cor­rup­tion at Glax­osmithk­line. He was ar­rested on trumped-up charges of break­ing data laws. He was man­a­cled and forced to read from a script as he ad­mit­ted to his fic­ti­tious crimes.

In his forced con­fes­sion in court, beamed to Bri­tish TVs, he said: ‘I some­times used il­le­gal means to ob­tain per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

‘I very much re­gret this and apol­o­gise to the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment.’

He spent the next two years in a Chi­nese jail where he was beaten, tor­tured and drugged.

Other dis­turb­ing cases of forced con­fes­sions shown on CGTN in­clude a Swedish book­seller still in prison on bo­gus charges of drinkdriv­ing and a jour­nal­ist jailed for ten months for ex­pos­ing cor­rup­tion at a state-owned firm.

Af­ter his re­lease from jail and re­turn to Bri­tain, Mr Humphrey was hor­ri­fied to learn that his trav­esty of a trial had been broad­cast in Bri­tain. With the sup­port of civil­rights group Safe­guard De­fend­ers, he has gone to Of­com call­ing for CGTN to be taken off air.

Safe­guard De­fend­ers’ direc­tor Peter Dahlin – a Swedish ac­tivist who him­self was forced to con­fess on TV to ‘en­dan­ger­ing state se­cu­rity’ by sup­port­ing hu­man rights in China – said: ‘We’re not look­ing to close CGTN or stop it broad­cast­ing, but we hope that Of­com can ap­ply enough pres­sure to put an end to the broad­cast of forced con­fes­sions.’

But far from be­ing cowed by the crit­i­cism, CGTN is press­ing ahead with its plans for an enor­mous ex­pan­sion. Ear­lier this year, the chan­nel launched a ma­jor re­cruit­ment drive to hire 350 Lon­don­based jour­nal­ists to fill a sprawl­ing new pro­duc­tion cen­tre in West Lon­don. One ad­ver­tise­ment for a direc­tor of news de­scribed CGTN’s mis­sion as pro­vid­ing ‘ob­jec­tive, bal­anced, and im­par­tial cur­rentaffairs con­tent, re­port­ing the news from a Chi­nese per­spec­tive’. Ac­cord­ing to plans seen by The Mail on Sun­day, the broad­caster in­tends to fill the en­tire 11th floor of a build­ing in Chiswick and in­stall an enor­mous satel­lite dish on the roof, with the help of prop­erty de­vel­op­ers JAC.

The chan­nel is cur­rently avail­able on Sky and Freesat – which to­gether pro­vide chan­nels to about 10mil­lion Bri­tish house­holds – and broad­casts mainly from Bei­jing.

The sta­tion has huge am­bi­tions to compete with global broad­cast­ers such as the BBC and CNN and is cen­tral to China’s soft-power push. Since 2008, the state has ploughed more than £5bil­lion into ef­forts to seize ‘dis­course power’ from the West. Xin­hua, China’s main news agency, has es­tab­lished more for­eign bu­reaux in the past decade than any ri­val, boost­ing its total to 180. CGTN is just one arm of Voice

of China, a new me­dia group that in­cludes other tele­vi­sion and ra­dio ser­vices, and has been la­belled the ‘tongue and throat’ of China’s rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party.

The dif­fer­ence in the ‘Chi­nese per­spec­tive’ was most ev­i­dent in CGTN’s cov­er­age this year of dis­turb­ing plans to abol­ish pres­i­den­tial term lim­its in China’s con­sti­tu­tion. While the West­ern me­dia quickly pointed out that the plans could open the door to Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s in­def­i­nite rule, CGTN re­ported that ‘lead­ers from around the world have been send­ing con­grat­u­la­tions’. Last year, a se­ries of CGTN broad­casts fea­tured prom­i­nent Chi­nese jour­nal­ists ac­cus­ing West­ern­ers of be­ing ‘brain­washed’ by ‘West­ern val­ues of jour­nal­ism’, which were de­picted as ir­re­spon­si­ble and detri­men­tal to so­ci­ety. Luo Jun, an ed­i­tor at Xin­hua, sang the praises of cen­sor­ship, say­ing: ‘We have to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for what we re­port. If that’s be­ing con­sid­ered as cen­sor­ship, I think it’s good cen­sor­ship.’

But be­yond the bias, the grand plans and the ar­rival of CGTN in Lon­don have hor­ri­fied se­cu­rity ex­perts who warn that Bri­tain is abetting hu­man right abuses and risks wel­com­ing spies mas­querad­ing as jour­nal­ists.

‘We should be vig­i­lant of CGTN and not treat it as a me­dia out­let but what it is: a part of the re­pres­sive Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party ap­pa­ra­tus,’ said Jonas Parello-Plesner, a se­nior fel­low at the Washington DC-based Hud­son In­sti­tute. ‘Abroad, their employees have more in com­mon with spies than with jour­nal­ists.’

In Septem­ber, the US Jus­tice Depart­ment was so sus­pi­cious of CGTN and Xin­hua that they were forced to reg­is­ter as ‘for­eign agents’. The Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, a lead­ing Washington-based think tank, warned that ‘Bri­tain’s re­sponse to China’s at­tempts to in­sin­u­ate it­self within Bri­tain’s crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture, uni­ver­si­ties, civil so­ci­ety, political sys­tem and think tanks has been scat­ter­shot at best’.

In his Hud­son In­sti­tute re­port, Mr Parello-Plesner wrote: ‘The Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China has a dis­tinc­tive sys­tem that blurs the lines be­tween clas­si­cal es­pi­onage, clan­des­tine op­er­a­tions and in­flu­ence­seek­ing. The Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party’s (CCP) goal is to quell dis­sent­ing and neg­a­tive voices at home and abroad and in­flu­ence civil so­ci­ety and gov­ern­ments abroad. With deep cof­fers and the help of West­ern en­ablers, the CCP uses money, rather than Com­mu­nist ide­ol­ogy, as a pow­er­ful source of in­flu­ence, cre­at­ing par­a­sitic re­la­tion­ships of long-term dependence.

‘CCP in­ter­fer­ence and in­flu­ence op­er­a­tions tar­get the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in demo­cratic sys­tems. Re­tired West­ern politi­cians will­ingly ped­dle pro-CCP agen­das for cash and other ben­e­fits.’

Of­com has said it is ex­am­in­ing Mr Humphrey’s show trial ‘as a pri­or­ity’. It has pre­vi­ously ruled against chan­nels named in sim­i­lar com­plaints. In Jan­uary, it fined Al Ara­biya, based in Dubai, £120,000 af­ter it broad­cast footage of a Bahraini op­po­si­tion politi­cian con­fess­ing to of­fences while await­ing re­trial.

In 2011, Iran’s Press TV was slapped with a £100,000 fine af­ter it broad­cast an in­ter­view with an im­pris­oned jour­nal­ist con­ducted un­der duress. The fol­low­ing year, its UK li­cence was re­voked.

A spokesper­son for Of­com last night told The Mail on Sun­day: ‘We have re­ceived a com­plaint which we are as­sess­ing as a pri­or­ity. If, fol­low­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we find our rules have been bro­ken we would take the nec­es­sary en­force­ment ac­tion.’

Af­ter he was pa­raded, hand­cuffed, in a Chi­nese court in 2013 on trumped-up charges of break­ing data laws, Peter Humphrey en­dured two years in jail where he was tor­tured and drugged.

CHen YongzHou was ac­cused of de­fam­ing the Com­mu­nist Party af­ter un­cov­er­ing cor­rup­tion at a state-owned com­pany. He was forced to ‘con­fess’ be­fore he was jailed for 22 months in 2013.

NEW HQ: CGTN will oc­cupy a whole floor of this build­ing in West Lon­don

IN 2015, so­cialite Guo Meimei was forced to con­fess to run­ning an il­le­gal gam­bling den and work­ing as a call girl. She was jailed for five years. JAILED: GAM­BLING

JAILED: CAR CRIME Pub­lISher Gui Min­hai van­ished in 2015. When he reap­peared it was on state TV ‘con­fess­ing’ to caus­ing a death by drink-driv­ing. he is still in jail.

JAILED: FRAUD lIu TAI-TING, 27, was cleared of fraud in a court in Kenya, but af­ter be­ing de­ported to bei­jing was forced to con­fess and jailed for 15 years.

JAILED: DRUGS AC­TOr Ko Chen-tung was made to con­fess to drug use in 2014 af­ter he ap­peared in an anti-drug cam­paign video. he was de­tained for two weeks.

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