The scent of revolution drifting from the Middle East and
North Africa has seen the Central Government of China begin a renewed attack on
freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of association, of
proportions not seen since the lead-up to the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.
In the months
since the calls for “jasmine” revolution spread from Tunisia
in December 2010, the rule of law in China has effectively been rendered
irrelevant, with journalists, lawyers, human rights activists and students
illegally incarcerated, harassed and intimidated. A tight net has been cast
around information published by journalists or circulated online by citizens.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
considers that there are grave breaches of human rights occurring with
increasing frequency and recommends urgent action be taken by international
organisations to bring China’s
authorities to account.
The spread of popular uprisings, known
as “jasmine” revolutions, in Tunisia and Egypt through to neighbouring
countries in late 2010 and early 2011 received global attention, no less from
China’s authorities. Media in China barely reported the news of the overthrow
regime that came with President Hosni Mubarak’sresignation
on February 11, with the exception of emphasising that the Central Government had
evacuated Chinese nationals from the country for their safety.
However when a Chinese lawyer in Shanghai
posted “celebration for Egypt”
to her Twitter feed, she was quickly interrogated by a security officer in Shanghai on February 15.
The hint of revolution reverberated through the nervous system of China’s
Sunday protest call brings rapid
As “jasmine” sentiments drifted across
to China in the days
following the overthrow of the Mubarak regime of Egypt,
Central Government moved quickly to silence any whiff of dissent. Hundreds of
people across the country were interrogated and detained by security bureau officers
without due process. On Saturday, February 19, anonymous online posts called
for “Chinese jasmine revolution” protests to be held every Sunday, the
first within 24 hours. These posts were quickly censored, and on February 19,
when the website Boxun (http://news.boxun.com/) uploaded similar information,
it was shut down by hackers.
On the same day, the President
of China, Hu Jintao, held a “seminar” for all key leaders of bureaus and
departments of all provincial governments. Hu reminded all leaders to “enhance
their social management skills” in order to ensure social stability. Among the
eight points in his speech, he emphasised that online opinion must remain
within the well-established framework of “supervision of public opinion”, that
is to control all negative or sensitive reports that might affect the
Government’s power. The February 19 speech was widely interpreted as instructions
for all authorities to come to grips with “virtual society” online.
Yongkang, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee with oversight of public
security, followed this call on February 20, saying that all Communist leaders
should enhance their social management skills in order to protect the status of
the Communist Ruling Party. Zhou also made comments clearly designed to
coincide with the first protests that appeared in China, which had been flagged
in the online calls for demonstrations. “Ensure all social disagreement and
conflicts vanish when they are in sprout,” Zhou said, according to reports.
The same day,
numerous uniformed and plain-clothes law enforcement officers, regardless of their
designated bureau or department, rushed into the mooted protest areas to
supervise the crowds. Many posed as pedestrians, students or street cleaners to
take photos and collect information of protest participants and journalists
covering the events.
large police presence on the streets and the censorship of online messages, more
than 1000 people reportedly gathered at a public square in Wangfujing, Beijing, one of the
suggested protest areas. A few young people were immediately removed by police
without reason. One was manhandled by officers when they saw him holding a few
stalks of jasmine. Similar cases occurred in Shanghai. On this first Sunday protest,
police focused only on participants in the protests.
Spotlight shifts to journalists
had been blocked, harassed and manhandled by uniformed and plain-clothes
officers on February 20, but there were no reports of physical violence. However,
the strategy changed at protests on the following Sunday, February 27 –
journalists became the targets. At least 16 foreign media professionals suffered
various forms of physical violence at the hands of the authorities. One video
journalist was pushed to the ground by a uniformed officer and then was kicked
and punched by a man believed to be from the security bureau. While on the
ground the journalist was also hit on the head by a street cleaner with his
broom. In other incidents, plain-clothes officers pretended to be students and
approached journalists, attempting to elicit information from them on their attitudes
toward the Central Government.
Scores detained on questionable charges
On the first
two Sundays, police removed some of those who gathered at the protest areas in
a very short period of time, but the actual number of people who were taken
away by police was much higher. In the three weeks that followed the first
Sunday protest, it is believed that more than 100 people including journalists,
artists, bloggers, dissidents, human rights activists and lawyers were
interrogated, detained or placed under house arrest without explanation.
targeted included writer Ran Yunfei and human rights activists Ding Mao, Chen
Wei and Zhu Yufu, who were charged with inciting subversion of state power
after they were detained by police on February 19 and 20. Renowned contemporary
artist Ai Weiwei remains in detention after being taken by police from Beijing International
Airport on April 3, 2011.
Prompted by calls from domestic and international organisations questioning the
legality of Ai’s arrest, police now allege Ai was involved in tax evasion. Wen
Tao, a journalist and associate of Ai, also disappeared on April 3. There is no
information available on his whereabouts.
there was little evidence that these individuals were involved in China’s so-called
revolution”, they were charged either because they allegedly passed around
information on the protests, or possibly because they posted the single word,
“support” in their microblog or Twitter streams. Ren, Chen, Ding and Ai already
had a history of criticising the authorities, having spoken out against the Sichuan provincial
government following the devastating 2008 earthquake, in which at least 70,000
people were killed.
Meanwhile, the IFJ
learned that Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper journalist Song Zhibiao
is facing losing his job after he penned a May 12 editorial that obliquely
endorsed the actions of Ai Weiwei, in a piece which made several references to
the artist’s work.
Many of the scores of known detainees neither expressed their
points of view nor were involved in the protests. But they were imprisoned,
often on trumped-up charges such as illegal assembly, inciting social disorder
and endangering social security.
Some of those detained have been released, but they have refused
to accept any media interviews and have not made any disclosures on social
networks, which is unusual. This time, responses are quite different, with one frequent Twitter user
saying that many of those detained and then released were not mentioning the
“jasmine” issue because the security bureau is tightly monitoring information.
At least two
detainees, Hua Chunhui and Wei Qiang, were sent to labour re-education camps.
Wei was charged with illegal assembly after he took photographs of the protest
at Wangfujing on February 20.
and citizen journalists were interrogated or detained by security officers
after they reported local news or wrote about Ai Weiwei on their microblogs or in
local newspapers to pay tribute to him.
New rules for foreign journalists
has seen a dramatic change in the regulations that apply to foreign journalists
working in China.
According to the regulations for foreign correspondents, which remain in place
after they were installed for 2008 Olympics, journalists are permitted to interview
any person as long as the interviewee gives consent. In a significant backward
step, authorities now demand that journalists seek approval from officials
before conducting any interviews. At the same time, several potential interviewees
have refused to accept interviews after being pressured by local government
Students, religious and cultural events restricted
and boarding schools were issued with a notice from authorities ordering that
students must not meet in groups on campus. Students were also instructed to report
to teachers if they leave school during commemorations for the national day of
remembrance, Tomb Sweeping Day, from April 3 to 5. The notice stated that
students were not allowed to join any assembly in groups.
see gatherings of groups of people have been banned, including Christian
worship, concerts, arts exhibitions, cultural events and even a conference to
mark the 100-year anniversary of the 1911 revolution in China. Flower
farmers and florists are banned from selling jasmine and all product
advertisements of the plant are banned.
Communication under the spotlight
between people has become heavily censored. When people say “jasmine” on the
phone, the conversation will immediately disconnect. The use of the word is
also banned online. Gmail users complained that they had many difficulties
accessing their accounts, although Google claimed that thorough checks had revealed
the system had no problems. Citizen journalists informed the IFJ that internet
services were unexpectedly disconnected by their local providers because they had
visited some “illegal” websites. Some netizens also complained that they had
difficulties accessing some overseas websites even when using a VPN to get
so-called Great Firewall.
also unable to send any SMS containing the word “jasmine”. Even a famous
cultural song, “Jasmine”, was totally banned from video-sharing websites,
despite President Hu appearing in one of the videos singing the song on his
official visit to Kenya
Monopoly facilitates communications censorship
in myriad communications is chiefly due to the monopoly communication market that
exists in mainland China.
The current communication companies are owned by the state, and all internet
service providers have to sign a self-regulatory agreement which prevents them
from allowing the uploading of “unlawful” messages including, for example,
pornography, inciting social unrest, and separatism.
governments and some ISPs retain a large number of “online commentators”, some
of who are journalists. These online commentators have a lot of
responsibilities including the checking of “sensitive” messages and then reporting
to online administrators who delete the relevant information. They also have to
engage in online forums and chat rooms in order to divert the focus of online
comments if people are discussing hot topics such as inflation or property
A new body,
the State Internet Information
Office, was established under the State Council on May 4. Authorities claim
that the new office will help improve coordination among government ministries
and agencies that have oversight of the internet, but in fact it is clearly
aimed at further tightening censorship on the internet. The Vice-minister of
Police Bureau, Zhang Xinfeng, is one of the key appointees to the new office. Its
head, Wang Chen, is also the deputy head of the Central Propaganda Department
and a member of the National Committee of China.
Conclusion and recommendations
The IFJ has
serious concerns regarding the heavy-handed reaction by China’s authorities to journalists
and human rights defenders in the wake of calls for “jasmine” protests. It is
imperative that action be taken now by civil society and human rights
organisations in order to bring China’s authorities
The IFJ calls
on the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, to appoint a Special
Rapporteur to investigate and report to the UN Human Rights Council on human
rights violations in China, with special reference to violations of the right
of journalists to report freely and independently and the rights of all to
freedom of expression and access to information.
The IFJ recommends that human rights and civil society organisations from
around the world jointly urge President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao do the
· Unconditionally release all people who have been arbitrarily
detained in the clampdown since February 2011 and earlier for expressing their
opinions or reporting the news.
· Direct law enforcement officers at all level of government
to end harassment and obstruction of media personnel and those on whom they
· Recognise Article 35 of China’s Constitution, which
underlines freedom of expression, by removing barriers to the circulation of
information through the media and by individuals in print, broadcast or online.
· Protect the fundamental rights of all peoples in China,
including their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, access
to information and freedom of assembly.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +61 2 9333 0919
represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries
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