A weekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People's Republic of China
Issue No. 5: January 13, 2011
* Chinese investigative reporter dies after beating
* Website of Communist Party mouthpiece to open to investors
* Chinese authorities expand mobile-phone controls
* Uighur web editor sentenced to life imprisonment
* Giant Chinese-donated TV used for propaganda in Zimbabwe
BROADCAST / PRINT MEDIA NEWS
Chinese investigative reporter dies after beating
Sun Hongjie, a reporter for the Northern Xinjiang Morning Post, died on December 28 after being beaten into a coma five days earlier. Six men have been detained as suspects in the case. Sun was known for writing stories that were critical of local authorities. Although the state-run news agency Xinhua reported that an official investigation quickly found the assault to have been caused by a “personal dispute,” journalists in Xinjiang and elsewhere speculated that the crime was linked to an article Sun was researching on the forced demolition of a milk factory. The case is the most recent in the past year’s string of violent attacks against investigative journalists who apparently angered the subjects of their reporting.
Dissident writer dies after delayed medical parole
On December 31, dissident writer Li Hong died at a hospital in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, as the result of a neurological disease. He was surrounded by police officers who were there to block visitors. The authorities have suppressed news of his death, as it is widely believed that his health deteriorated due to abuse and denial of medical treatment in prison, including the rejection of multiple requests for medical parole. In March 2007, Li was sentenced to six years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” after he published articles that expressed support for missing human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. He was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease three months after he entered prison, but the Chinese government delayed his medical parole until June 2010, by which point he was fully dependent on a respirator. Several other prominent activists and writers who have been jailed in recent years—including Hu Jia and Huang Qi—remain in detention with inadequate medical care despite suffering from potentially life-threatening ailments.
NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS
China’s population of internet users reaches 450 million, top official claims
China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO) recently announced that the number of internet users in China in 2010 rose to 450 million, representing more than a third of the country’s total population and the largest number of internet users in the world. China also boasts the world’s most sophisticated censorship apparatus. SCIO director Wang Chen said that in the course of the government’s internet crackdown in 2010, some 60,000 websites containing “harmful materials” were forcibly shut down; an estimated 350 million articles, photographs, and videos were deleted; and more than 1,300 people received legal punishment. Although Wang cited the need to limit circulation of violent and pornographic materials, such content is often easier to access than politically sensitive information, suggesting that much of the censorship effort is politically motivated in practice.
Communist Party newspaper website to open to investors
On January 5, the official Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, announced that its website plans to sell 40 million shares in an initial public offering in Shanghai, making it the first state-controlled Chinese news website to go public. According to the state-run China Daily, nine other Chinese government-backed websites, including those of Xinhua news agency and the national television network, will also be seeking investors. The CCP is undertaking such commercialization in an apparent bid to improve the state-run websites’ financial viability as China’s vibrant internet culture is “growing weary of party-line publications,” according to Professor Anne Nelson of Columbia University. The People’s Daily was recently ranked 47th on a list of most visited Chinese websites, far behind popular privately owned web portals such as Sina.com and 163.com, though the latter are also required to follow CCP censorship guidelines.
Image of activist’s death sparks fury online
Beginning on December 25, a graphic image of Chinese villager Qian Yunhui’s crushed body under a truck was circulated on China’s major web portals. The photo received 400,000 hits and 20,000 comments within 36 hours before it was removed from the internet. Qian, a chief of Zhaiqiao village in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, was known for lobbying on behalf of his villagers for compensation for illegal land seizures by local officials. Amid public outcry, Zhejiang authorities claimed that Qian’s death was a traffic accident and that the public could attend the trial of Fei Liangyu, the driver accused of killing Qian. On January 8, three netizens traveled to the village to conduct an investigation. That evening, a group of local police arrived at their accommodations, summoned the three for questioning, and confiscated their laptops, mobile phones, and cameras.
Skype founder visits China amid speculation on VoIP ban
Niklas Zennström, cofounder of the internet voice-service company Skype, visited Beijing in early January, just weeks after a similar trip by Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the popular social-networking site Facebook. Zennström denied that his trip was related to Skype’s operations, though he paid a visit to TOM Group, Skype’s partner in China. On December 10, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced that it was collecting evidence for cases against unlawful Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, fueling speculation that Skype could be banned, possibly to protect the profits of state-owned telecommunication companies including China Mobile and China Netcom. TOM Group claimed that Skype’s operations in China were compliant with local laws, and that the company continued to operate as usual. Like other international technology companies, TOM-Skype is known to cooperate with Beijing on censorship and surveillance, redirecting Chinese users to a special version of the application.
Chinese government expands mobile-phone controls
According to Radio Free Asia, China’s mobile-phone service providers are required as of January 2011 to increase censorship of text messages. Users who send messages that include banned words may find that the messages do not go through and could ultimately have their service cut off. The state-run telecommunications company China Unicom has created a list of sensitive terms, which reportedly include “Xinjiang independence,” “Radio Free Asia,” “Falun Gong,” and “Chinese Communist Party.” The government has sought to increase control over mobile phones over the past year, particularly because they have been used to organize labor and other protests. In September 2010, the authorities implemented a real-name registration system, requiring civilians to show personal identification documents when purchasing mobile-phone numbers. However, according to China Youth Daily, the effect of the registration system has been limited, as it is not strictly enforced by small vendors.
TIBET & XINJIANG
Tibetan monk and writer detained in Lhasa
According to overseas Tibetan groups, on December 29 Chinese police in Lhasa detained Tenpa Lodoe, a Tibetan monk, writer, and former editor of a Tibetan-language journal called Duenkyoed (Moving Forward). The officers also seized his laptop, Buddhist scriptures, and printing blocks. Lodoe previously told contacts that the Chinese government had been watching his activities, including a debate session that he organized on December 20 about the situation in Tibet. In January 2010, Lodoe had conducted a debate series on intellectual-property rights in Sichuan province with another Tibetan writer, Goyoen, who was arrested in June and allegedly tortured for months before being released.
Uighur web editor sentenced to life imprisonment
Memetjan Abdulla, a former editor at China National Radio and a manager for the Uighur-language website Salkin, was sentenced to life in prison in a secret trial in April 2010. Sentenced at the same time was Gulmire Imin, a former local official who also worked at Salkin. Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress, said he and his colleagues had only recently learned about the court decision, which, if confirmed, would be among the harshest for someone not directly involved in the rioting in Urumqi in July 2009. Abdulla was arrested after he translated and reposted an online appeal to protest Han-Uighur clashes at a factory in Guangdong province and also gave interviews to foreign journalists in Beijing.
Propaganda chief attends Confucius Institute gathering
In December, Li Changchun, the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda chief and a Politburo Standing Committee member, attended the Fifth Annual Conference of the Confucius Institutes in Beijing. The two-day event was also attended by 1,400 representatives of Confucius Institutes based in 96 countries. The facilities, which offer Chinese language training and other educational programs, are one of the tools China has used in recent years to expand its international influence. Li’s presence at the conference points to the close relationship between the initiative and the Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus. In additional appearances throughout the month, Li and other Party leaders emphasized the need to focus in 2011 on foreign propaganda work, including through the international expansion of state-run media. On January 4, a national conference on foreign propaganda work was held in Beijing.
Giant Chinese-donated TV used for propaganda in Zimbabwe
In downtown Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, a giant television screen shows programs of the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and plays the party jingles of President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). It is reportedly a donation from the Chinese government to Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Defense. According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa, an African-based media watchdog, ZBC airs only stories that are favorable to ZANU-PF, a bias that has been condemned by other parties in the coalition government. Zimbabwe is rated Not Free in Freedom House's annual survey of media freedom. Zimbabwean authorities are also believed to have used Chinese technology to jam the signals of increasingly popular foreign-based radio stations that broadcast into the country.
Taiwanese TV station’s license suspension sparks debate on press freedom
On December 28, Taiwan’s National Communications Commission (NCC) revoked the entertainment-channel license of ERA TV, a commercial broadcaster, over concerns about embedded marketing. NCC Chairwoman Su Herng said the panel had given ERA TV multiple warnings since February 2010 before it made its final decision. The ruling comes amid a growing public debate over the phenomenon of paid-for news, and follows a decision to deny a license to Next TV. In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Next Media founder Jimmy Lai expressed concern about a broader erosion of press freedom in Taiwan.