A weekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People's Republic of China
Issue No. 23: June 2, 2011
BROADCAST / PRINT MEDIA NEWS
Ai Weiwei allowed visit, pro-Ai journalist disciplined
The Hong Kong–based China Media Project has confirmed that Song Zhibiao, an editor at the Guangdong-based Southern Metropolis Daily, was "side-shuffled"-or reassigned as a disciplinary measure-after he published an editorial on May 12 that paid tribute to victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In the editorial, Song hinted at support for detained artist and blogger Ai Weiwei by making reference to some of his better-known sculptures. According to China Media Project, Song will be prevented from authoring editorials for an unspecified period of time. On May 15, Ai, who had been detained incommunicado since April 3, was allowed for the first time to meet with his wife, Lu Qing, at a secret location in Beijing. Police monitored the visit, limiting the scope of their conversation, but Lu reported that Ai seemed to be in good health and did not show obvious signs of torture. He remains detained without formal charge.
Foreign correspondents find worsening conditions in China
A survey conducted by the Beijing-based Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) and released on May 19 indicates that the working environment for foreign reporters in China has deteriorated over the past year and falls far short of international standards. About 70 percent of the 108 FCCC members who responded to the survey said they had personally faced police harassment. Some were warned that they could have their visas revoked, while others experienced home visits, telephone calls, and physical assaults. About 94 percent of the respondents agreed that reporting conditions had worsened, especially since calls for a protest-driven "Jasmine Revolution" in China surfaced on the internet in mid-February. Melissa Chan, a Beijing correspondent for the Qatar-based television station Al-Jazeera, revealed on her blog that while conducting reporting trips she is often followed and stopped by "black Audis" driven by Chinese government officials. A recent video filmed by Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Stephen McDonell and his crew shows police shoving McDonell in his hotel lobby when he approaches them to ask why they have been following them for the past five days.
Communist Party history volume published after 16 years of vetting
With the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) preparing to mark the 90th anniversary of its founding in July, its 1,074-page History of the Chinese Communist Party, Volume 2 (1949–1978) came off the presses in early January. The tome is reportedly the product of 16 years of editing, and more than a dozen of the scholars who were initially involved died before its release. Shi Zhongquan, the volume's remaining senior editor and a former deputy director of the Party History Research Center, said the initial draft, which took four years to finish, was sent to the People's Liberation Army and the Politburo for review. The final version was vetted by 64 party and state entities. It was returned after 12 years with "clear demands regarding revision" from party chief Hu Jintao and his likely successor, Xi Jinping. The publication covers traumatic episodes such as the Great Leap Forward, a set of CCP policies that resulted in the famine-related deaths of 30 to 40 million people. While independent historians of the period describe "starvation, disease, and brutal repression by party officials, with some villages resorting to cannibalism," the CCP version primly notes an "extreme shortage of grains, oils, vegetables and non-staple foodstuffs."
NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS
Users of overseas websites report new access barriers
In recent weeks, internet users at schools and companies in China have increasingly experienced poor access to foreign websites as a result of widespread disruption of virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow them to circumvent government censors. On May 10, the Southern Medical University announced on its library website that difficulties in accessing overseas research databases were being caused by China Telecom's newly imposed quota on visitors to foreign websites. It was also reported that China-based staff of the U.S. technology company IBM had trouble accessing the firm's intranet, whose servers are located outside China. Some speculated that the disruption was caused by upgrades to China's so-called Great Firewall that enable detection and blocking of large-scale traffic to foreign internet-protocol (IP) addresses. Professor Fang Binxing, chief architect of the Great Firewall, attributed the new obstacles to internet-service providers' economic concerns, as costs were higher for them when users accessed large numbers of overseas websites. Meanwhile, the chief executive of Flipboard, an iPad tablet-computer application that aggregates social-media platforms, reported that the service has had its servers blocked. Chinese netizens had used Flipboard to access Twitter and Facebook, U.S.-based platforms that are banned in China.
Netizen pelts 'Great Firewall' creator with eggs, shoes
On May 19, Fang Binxing, who is credited with designing China's extensive internet filtration and censorship system, known as the Great Firewall, was reportedly attacked by a protester as he delivered a guest lecture at Wuhan University in Hubei province. The protester allegedly threw eggs and shoes at Fang, though most of the projectiles apparently missed their target. Police were reportedly searching for the young man, who was praised in postings on the Twitter microblogging service, which is banned in China, and on the domestic microblogging service Sina Weibo, prompting moderators to censor the discussion.
Bombings by petitioner draw muted media coverage, netizen sympathy
China's media on May 27 provided little coverage of a series of deadly explosions that had killed at least two people and injured 10 others at government buildings in Fuzhou city, Jiangxi province, the previous day. The paucity of reporting triggered speculation that the government had issued directives to suppress the news. An article that was later removed from a state media website said the three blasts were set off by a farmer named Qian Mingqi, who was "disgruntled with the legal system." Qian, before he was killed in the explosions, had reportedly sent an e-mail message to a reporter at Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily to describe his plans, claiming they were an act of desperation after 10 years of fruitless attempts to obtain compensation for land stolen by a local official. The farmer had also hinted at the act on his microblog account. The entry in question was removed from the web, but photographs of Qian holding protest signs have quickly circulated online. The incident was ranked as the most discussed topic on the country's popular microblogging site Sina Weibo the next day, with many postings expressing sympathy for Qian's plight.
Update on 'Jasmine' detentions, releases, and first sentencing
Prominent lawyer, blogger, and activist Xu Zhiyong was reportedly detained in Beijing on May 20, making him one of the latest victims of a government crackdown since calls for a protest-driven "Jasmine Revolution" in China surfaced on the internet in mid-February. Shanghai-based human rights lawyer Li Tiantian was released on May 24 on the condition that she not disclose the details of her three-month detention. However, she revealed on her Twitter microblog account that the police had been harassing her family and her boyfriend, with measures ranging from visits to their homes and offices to showing them video footage of her entering hotels with other men. On June 1, Sichuan-based lawyer Li Shuangde was sentenced to a four-month prison term and a fine of 20,000 RMB (US$3,000) for supposed credit-card fraud, marking the first sentence imposed on an activist abducted in the current crackdown. As it is unusual for those convicted of fraud to receive jail sentences in China, China Human Rights Defenders said Li's charges were an excuse to punish him for his advocacy work on free elections.
Prisoners forced to mine virtual gold online
Liu Dali, who served three years as a prisoner at a labor camp in Heilongjiang province for petitioning the central government about corruption in his hometown, has alleged that he was forced to play online games to build up credits, which prison guards could then sell to other players for real money. According to Liu, who was sent to the camp in 2004, inmates at the camp had to spend 12-hour shifts engaged in monotonous tasks in games such as World of Warcraft, and they were beaten if they did not meet their quotas. Prison bosses reportedly viewed such accumulation of online wealth as a more lucrative business than the exploitation of physical prisoner labor. The lack of regulations on trading of virtual currencies has intensified exploitation of prisoners, who, according to Liu, could earn up to 5,000 RMB (US$770) a day for the guards while not receiving a penny themselves.
Internet blackout imposed in Inner Mongolia
The Chinese authorities have cut off communications in Inner Mongolia, home to 24 million people, to curb protests sparked by the death of a Mongolian herdsman on May 10. He was run over by a Han Chinese coal truck driver while protesting the frequent traffic and mining operations on grasslands in West Ujimqin Banner. In Inner Mongolia's capital, Hohhot, internet service on mobile telephones has been blocked, and cybercafés are closed due to similar disruptions. The popular social-networking site Renren has also reportedly blocked the pages of users who listed Inner Mongolia as their place of residence. Microblogging services operated by Sina and Tencent have removed posts related to the protests, and words such as "Hohhot" and "Ujimqin" are now censored on the Chinese internet. Thousands of students at Hohhot Nationality University, who have been locked down on campus, reported that their internet access has been cut off. Those who sent out text messages about the protests via mobile phone were summoned by the authorities. This is not the first time the government has severed internet connections to an ethnic minority region. From July 2009 to May 2010, the Chinese authorities cut all connections to the northwestern region of Xinjiang as security forces carried out mass arrests in the wake of ethnic violence. The region's 20 million residents were denied access to outside information and e-mail, instant-messaging, and blog-hosting services.
China-based hackers infiltrate Gmail accounts
On June 1, the U.S.-based internet company Google reported that hundreds of users of its popular Gmail e-mail service, including human rights activists, journalists, military personnel, and senior government officials in the United States and South Korea, had been targeted in hacking attacks that apparently originated in Jinan province in eastern China, home to a command center of the Chinese military. Washington-based security researcher Mila Parkour said the "man-in-the-mailbox" phishing attack involved hackers sending e-mail messages using a victim's account and disguised with language that would be relevant to the recipient. This then lured the initial victim's contacts into opening documents that prompt them to enter their e-mail passwords. She highlighted a file titled "Draft US-China Joint Statement" that was recently circulated among staff at the U.S. State and Defense Departments; the file directed recipients to a fake Gmail log-in page. The Chinese government denied on June 2 that it was involved in such attacks, adding that Google "arbitrarily pointed its fingers at China." Some internet security specialists have noted the difficulty of unequivocally tracing such an attack to the Chinese government.
Cisco sued for role in arrest of China dissidents
On May 19, the California-based information technology company Cisco was sued in a U.S. federal court by the Washington-based Human Rights Law Foundation on behalf of 11 Falun Gong practitioners. The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified compensatory damages, says the company helped Chinese authorities to construct the "Golden Shield," which enables censorship and surveillance on China's internet. The suit claims that as many as 5,000 Falun Gong practitioners whose internet use was tracked by Golden Shield were then apprehended. Cisco denied the allegation, maintaining that it did not customize its products to facilitate the Chinese government's censorship policies. However, according to internal Cisco sales materials that were leaked in August 2008, the company stated that the Golden Shield system would help Beijing persecute Falun Gong and "other hostile elements," and the plaintiffs' lawyer claims to have additional evidence that Cisco advised the Ministry of Public Security on how to catch dissidents. A number of the 11 people named as plaintiffs, eight of whom were Chinese citizens, have been tortured, killed, or disappeared. In early January, the U.S. investment management firm Boston Common announced that it had sold most of its US$3.6 million stake in Cisco, accusing it of lacking transparency and dodging concerns over its complicity in human rights violations in China.
Baidu, seeking growth overseas, faces U.S. censorship suit
Haoyu Shen, senior vice president of the Chinese search engine giant Baidu, said on May 27 that the company is looking to expand overseas, and noted that it is developing a multilanguage platform for users in other markets. However, in a sign of the challenges Baidu might face as it seeks to establish itself beyond China's borders, on May 18 the company was sued by eight New York–based Chinese prodemocracy writers who accused it of enforcing the Chinese Communist Party's censorship policies abroad. They filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, and argued that Baidu violates U.S. constitutional guarantees of free speech, as their writings and videos about China's 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre do not appear in its search results even for users in the United States. The lawsuit seeks US$16 million in damages, but does not demand changes to Baidu's policies, as "it would be futile to expect Baidu to change," according to the plaintiffs' lawyer.
Taiwan premier urges telecom to retain Falun Gong–linked TV station
On May 24, Taiwan premier Wu Den-yih reportedly remarked in a meeting that Chunghwa Telecom (CHT), a partly government-owned telecommunications company, should protect Taiwan's democracy by continuing to carry the broadcasts of a Falun Gong–affiliated television station on its satellite after August 9. CHT had announced in April that it would not renew a contract with the station, New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV), which relies on the company's satellite to transmit uncensored news to mainland China. Taiwan's media regulator, the National Communications Commission (NCC), had also conducted administrative checks on CHT, but noted that the final decision was in the hands of the telecommunications company and its main shareholder, Taiwan's Ministry of Transportation and Communications. According to NTDTV spokeswoman Theresa Chu, CHT still has not offered evidence to prove that a shortage of bandwidth was indeed the reason it had decided to terminate services for the channel, as the company claimed. CHT currently owns a subsidiary in Shanghai and has joint ventures with China's state-owned China Telecom Corporation, giving it a potential incentive to please the authorities in Beijing.