Reporters Without Borders is concerned by recent instances of Internet censorship in China which have led to the arrest of a blogger, the dismissal of a journalist and the muzzling of debate on the Tiananmen Square massacre, which took place 23 years ago yesterday.
“Twenty-three years after the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese government continues to stifle any criticism and to filter information on the subject,” the press freedom organization said.
“It has changed its methods and these days censorship is carried out mainly on the Internet. Journalists must not only comply with the directives of the official news agency Xinhua and the ministry of propaganda when they write their articles, but they also have to be careful what they say on social networking sites.
“However, journalists who write favourably about the government receive preferential treatment, while any critical posts are punished immediately.”
Journalists caught in microblogging trap
Last week, Yu Chen 喻尘, 39, editor of the in-depth investigative news desk at the Southern Metropolitan Newspaper (南方都市报), was suspended then forced to resign over a commentary published under his newspaper’s microblog account on the site Sina Weibo. The post, which was immediately removed by the authorities, criticized in an ironic manner the Communist Party’s control over the military.
Despite the fact that Yu Chen himself was not the author of the commentary, the authorities often hold editors and webmasters responsible for published content.
He was not the first journalist to have paid the price for a message posted on Weibo.
On 9 April, Zhao Pu 赵普, a reporter with state-owned CCTV, was suspended for posting a warning message on his Weibo microblog about dangerous food products. On 23 March, the financial reporter Li Delin 李德林 was arrested after he posted a message on his microblog drawing attention to troop movements in Beijing.
On the other hand, Yang Rui 杨锐, a news presenter on CCTV, received no punishment for a microblog post on Sina Weibo on 16 May in which he launched an attack on foreigners living in China, calling them “trash” and “snakes” and accusing them of engaging in human trafficking and espionage, spreading lies about China and stealing its wealth.
His message ended with a personal attack on Melissa Chan, an English-language correspondent for the TV station Al-Jazeera in Beijing who was expelled from China on 8 May. He said: "We kicked out that foreign bitch and closed Al-Jazeera's Beijing bureau. We should shut up and kick out those who demonise China."
In an article published on 23 May, the party organ Global Times defended Yang Rui and played down his lapse, describing it as insensitive. However, his words were consistent with a 100-day campaign launched by the Beijing Public Security Bureau on 15 May to "clean out" non-Chinese living or working illegally in the city.
Journalists are not the only ones to have suffered punishment for comments posted on Weibo. According to a report on 2 June quoted by the news site Tianshan, a Uighur netizen was arrested in the city of Urumqi in the Xinjiang region for spreading rumours on the microblogging site.
Under the name Pami'er Yasen 帕米尔·亚森, he reposted information from another website about the suspicious death of a 12-year-old child in a detention centre. The police accused him of spreading false information, arousing debate on the subject, causing social unrest and being a danger to society in violation of the public security criminal code.
Online censorship stepped up over Tiananmen anniversary
Chinese authorities have boosted Internet censorship to circumvent any efforts to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Searches related to the anniversary on the Sina Weibo website have been blocked since yesterday. The search terms include “six four ”, the number 23, the word “candle” and the expression “never forget” have been added to the long list of words banned under Chinese censorship rules.
Users of the site are greeted by a message warning them that their search results cannot be displayed "due to relevant laws, regulations and policies", according to the US newspaper Chicago Tribune.
Weibo has also removed users’ ability to display photos to prevent the distribution of images commemorating the anniversary. However, some images have slipped through the barrier, such as banned pictures of soldiers in Tiananmen Square just after the 1989 crackdown that have been published on Twitter by the blogger Zola.
This censorship has provoked an outcry in the blogosphere, with users complaining that their posts have been “harmonised” minutes after being published.
Among the posts that have been removed was a joke about online censorship published yesterday by Chen Baocheng 陈宝成, a journalist in Pingdu in the Shandong region, which was immediately deleted by the authorities.
To commemorate the Tiananmen Square anniversary and help ensure the date is not forgotten, Reporters Without Borders is supporting demonstrations throughout the world and yesterday hosted a press conference organized by member organizations of the committee to support Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment in 2009 as a result of his fight for human rights in China.
The Chinese dissident Zhang Jian 张健 attended the event, where he spoke of his personal recollections of the 1989 demonstrations in Beijing and the 4 June Movement which has been behind rallies in various cities around the world.