Reporters Without Borders calls for an international reaction to the all-out censorship of information in China that includes website blocking, prior censorship of social networks and the dismissal of journalists who cover sensitive stories. The government is stepping up efforts to silence criticism and independent reporting, taking advantage of widespread indifference in the international community, especially UN bodies.
“It is clear from the latest events that the authorities are keeping their overall control of information with continuing consequences for those who try to use free speech to any degree,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Instead of relaxing controls, the government seems bent on reinforcing censorship of all kinds of media, including print, online, national and foreign. At the same time, the disturbing silence from the international community is not helping.
“While we have welcomed the work of the UN special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, we regret that censorship in China and the constraints on Chinese and foreign journalists in China get so little mention. UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council must take up these issues and must condemn the censorship, arrests and convictions of journalists, writers and bloggers who are just trying to provide news and information.”
Journalist fired for criticizing party
Shi Junrong (石俊荣), a journalist with the Xi'an Evening News (西安晚报), a newspaper based in Wei'an, in the northern province of Shaanxi, was suspended yesterday for writing a story on 27 June about the large amount money spent on buying cigarettes for a meeting of senior members of the local branch of the Communist Party.
Like Zhao Pu (赵普), a journalist who was removed from his job with state-owned CCTV on 9 April, it is unclear whether Shi will later be allowed to return to work or whether his “suspension” is definitive.
Foreign media under pressure
The website of the business news service Bloomberg was censored in China shortly after it posted a story on 29 June about the fortune owned by the family of Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping (习近平), who is tipped to replace Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) as president and Communist Party general secretary.
The site was rendered inaccessible in mainland China the same day and results for “Xi Jinping” were blocked on search engines the next day. The story detailed the Xi family’s investments and income sources, explaining that although none of these assets were directly linked to Xi Jinping, his wife or daughter, they were registered as owned by his elder sister’s family.
Two days before that, the New York Times launched a Chinese-language version (cn.nytimes.com) together with an accompanying account on the Chinese microblogging platform Sina Weibo, but within hours the “comment” and “forward” functions on its Sina Weibo account had been disabled and then the account itself was temporarily blocked,
Photos: en / cn
The unexplained blocking appears to have violated the new points system that Sina Weibo introduced on 28 May, according to which the New York Times should only have had some its points withdrawn if it violated the site’s rules.
Weibo – police dissuasion tool
As well content control on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular social network, the authorities also use it to discourage “illegal” activity by civil society.
Following yesterday’s demonstrations against the construction of a factory in Shifang (in the southwestern province of Sichuan), the local police posted a message on Sina Weibo today calling on the population not to continue their “illegal activities.”
It was clear from the message (Chinese) that the police are very aware of the role that the Internet and other communication tools can play in rallying support for protests. The message began:
“Article 1 – All those who incite, plan or organize illegal gatherings and demonstration by using the Internet, mobile phones or other methods must immediately terminate their illegal activities and take steps to end their influence. Otherwise, once the facts have been verified, they will be dealt with according to the law.”
In another message (Chinese), the police ordered Internet users not to spread “false rumours” and warned that those who ignored the directive would be punished (请广大市民不信谣、不传谣。任何谣言制造者将依法查处。). Construction of the factory has meanwhile been suspended.
The blocking of the Bloomberg site and the temporary suspension of the New York Times Sina Weibo account follow an increase in harassment and surveillance of foreign media, which is becoming increasingly unbearable.
The harassment included the forced closure of the Al Jazeera English bureau in Beijing two months ago following the expulsion of its reporter, Melissa Chan, who was the target of an online smear campaign during a “100-day campaign against foreigners working or residing “illegally” in China.
China is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet” and is ranked 174th out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.