Recent news from China tells of a massive and an exemplary denial of freedom of speech on the Internet, with huge numbers having their accounts closed, including one widely respected commentator.
On Nov. 13, Beijing Youth Daily reported that more than 100,000 microblog accounts accused of violating “seven bottom lines” have been canceled by Sina Weibo.
The report also stated, “Sina Weibo [a popular microblog service similar to Twitter] will further improve the online reporting mechanism to curb Internet irregularities.”
Lu Wei, director of the China Internet Information Office, held a meeting on Aug. 10 with several network celebrities, including Jilian Hai, Xue Manzi, Chen Li, and Pan Shiyi (also known as Big Vs on Weibo). Lu claimed that a consensus on adhering to the “seven bottom lines” had been reached with the Big Vs—individuals who use their real names when they blog and attract millions of followers.
The “seven bottom lines” are meant to identify topics about which bloggers know the CCP will scrutinize what they write with special care: laws and regulations, the socialist system, national interests, legitimate interests of citizens, social public order, trends in morality, and the authenticity of information.
Revered Scholar Silenced
Coinciding with the Daily report, several of Zhang Lifan’s registered website accounts were closed.
The 63-year-old Zhang, a scholar of modern Chinese history and a newspaper columnist, is considered to be an Internet celebrity. He often published political articles on the Internet, urging the authorities to conduct political reform.
Zhang Lifan spoke with Voice of America about the Internet environment in China, freedom of speech, and the ruling that penalizes for spreading “rumors” a blogger whose comments are viewed or forwarded too many times.
“The Internet rules should not hinder freedom of speech,” Zhang said.
“The Internet should have rules, but they need to be reasonable and conform to the freedom of speech stipulated in the Constitution’s Article 35, rather than restricting it,” Zhang said.
He admits that there should be boundaries between freedom of speech and rumor or slander, but the boundaries are hard to define in China.
In Zhang’s view, the “two highs,” namely the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Supreme People’s Court in China, in setting forth Internet regulations, did not actually interpret the law, but took it upon themselves to make new law, overstepping the power of the National People’s Congress (NPC), and sparking controversy in legal circles.
Despite the contrived legal interpretation, Zhang and the other network celebrities were not deterred from talking.
He said: “In fact, we fear nothing. Now the netizens are mocking the interpretation. This has shown that the government’s laws and the ‘two highs’ are without any authority at all.”
Zhang’s main concern was who would become the first victim of the judicial interpretation, because when making the law, the CCP could have targeted some people. Therefore, once such a case occurs, it would typically be significant.
Zhang mentioned as an example the case of Li Zhuang, a lawyer in Chongqing who was prosecuted in 2011 on the suspicion of instigating men to fabricate testimony, because they were unwilling to cooperate with authorities in their “crackdown on gangs” campaign.
The ‘Two Highs’ Crack Down
In September, the “two highs” promulgated provisions to combat rumors spreading through the Internet, stipulating: “If the same defamatory information is clicked and viewed 5,000 times or more, or forwarded more than 500 times, it will be regarded as ‘serious’ and the rumormonger will be sentenced to three years imprisonment.”
Subsequently, in order to strengthen the Internet control, the CCP’s new leadership launched a campaign to occupy the new battlefield of public opinion, leading to the arrest of many Internet celebrities and opinion leaders.
Dong Liwen, who is a member/advisor of Taiwan Think Tank and familiar with China’s politics, told the media that after coming to power, Xi Jinping has shown no signs of loosening constraints on free speech. He believes the recent arrests demonstrate continued constraints in the Xi era, which are worse than under the previous leader.
Dong says Xi Jinping “stabilizes political power by all means.” But Dong cautions that Xi’s move toward further constraint doesn’t exclude the possibility of triggering a greater backlash against him by the people. Xi simply “walks on the cliff.”
Translation by Joseph Wu. Written in English by Arleen Richards.
Read the original Chinese article.