Beijing Censors Social Media for Comments Critical of Venezuela’s Maduro Regime

February 12, 2019 Updated: February 12, 2019

Beijing’s support for the Venezuelan regime under Nicolás Maduro has extended to censoring Chinese netizens’ social media posts that are critical of him.

On Jan. 29, Zhao Weidong from northern China’s Shaanxi Province was called in by local police and slapped with an administrative fine of 500 yuan ($74) for retweeting a post by U.S.-based Twitter account @brother_chui, according to a Feb. 11 report by Radio Free Asia (RFA).

“How did Venezuela go from being the richest democracy in the world to a totalitarian socialist state?” the original tweet stated on Jan. 20. Zhao retweeted the post from his Twitter account, @ctm10001.

Twitter is blocked inside China but many Chinese people use software such as VPNs to bypass China’s firewall.

Maduro’s government has strong ties with China, evident in comments made by Delcy Rodríguez, Venezuela’s vice president, while attending a Chinese New Year reception hosted by the Chinese Embassy in Caracas in January.

“Venezuela has all the oil China needs,” he said.

@brother_chui’s tweet targeted Maduro’s policies, mentioning that after taking power, Maduro revised the constitution, locked up dissidents, clamped down on media, and imported China’s mass surveillance systems.

For example, in November last year, Reuters reported that Chinese tech giant ZTE was the chief architect behind Venezuela’s recent roll-out of its smart-card ID program, which transmits information about cardholders onto government servers. The ID is linked to many government social programs that Venezuelans rely on. Human rights groups have criticized the ID card system for its sweeping monitoring capabilities.

The local police determined Zhao’s retweet as “false information,” according to a copy of the police document seen by RFA.

Wu Bin, a Chinese online free speech activist who also goes by the nickname of Xiucai Jianghu, told RFA that he had to delete his tweet about Zhao’s fine, after he himself was visited by China’s state security police.

“It’s ridiculous; now you don’t just get fined for criticizing our own [government], you can get fined for criticizing a foreign country, too,” Wu told RFA. He added that “there is no freedom of expression in this country, nor any sense of safety.”

A Twitter user with the surname Wang told RFA that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been censoring news of developments in Venezuela after opposition leader Juan Guaidó began to receive international recognition as the interim president of the South American country.

Wang’s tweet explained that the CCP did not want the opposition movement to influence Chinese people into starting a political movement.

He Jiangbing, a Chinese economist and social media commentator, similarly told RFA, “They are still trying to prevent another color revolution,” referring to political movements in Eastern Europe in the 1980s and 1990s that overthrew authoritarian regimes.

Beijing had similar reactions when the Jasmine Revolution, a popular uprising in Tunisia against corruption and political repression under former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, broke out between December 2010 and January 2011. The Chinese regime censored the word “jasmine” on the internet and banned sales of the flower at several markets in Beijing.

Since November last year, Chinese authorities have been targeting Twitter users in China. Dissidents in multiple Chinese municipalities and provinces, including Beijing, Shandong, and Guangdong, all recently saw their Twitter accounts forcibly closed by Chinese authorities.

China’s human rights lawyer and dissident Chen Yunke and dissident Ye Jinghuan saw their Twitter accounts hacked by Chinese authorities, whom fabricated “unlawful” content to incriminate them.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer