China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 106

Freedom House’s biweekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People’s Republic of China

Issue No. 106: June 3, 2014
Security clampdown in Beijing, march and mass vigil in Hong Kong
Detentions expand in scope and severity ahead of June 4
Censors target June 4 social-media mentions, search results
Foreign web services face more intense blocking
U.S. House resolution urges end of Tiananmen censorship
Notable Analysis: The People’s Republic of Amnesia

* CCTV executives investigated for corruption
Tencent fires outspoken blogger after meeting with John Kerry
Authorities announce campaign to censor WeChat, other messaging apps
Jailed Uighur scholar’s family loses income, over 200 arrested for online videos
Tibetan monk goes into exile after assisting jailed filmmaker
U.S. indicts Chinese officers for hacking, Beijing phasing out U.S. computer firms

Printable Version

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Announcement: As members of the editorial team disperse for travel and other opportunities, the CMB will be going on an extended summer hiatus. We wish our readers and donors all the best for the coming months, and hope to resume publication in the fall with Issue No. 107. In the meantime, stay tuned for China-related blogs and special reports from Freedom House.



Security clampdown in Beijing, march and mass vigil in Hong Kong

Authorities in Beijing intensified the city’s already tight security ahead of the 25th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, military crackdown on student-led prodemocracy protests in Tiananmen Square (see CMB No. 105). State-run media reported on May 30 that hundreds of thousands of security personnel had been deployed in the capital. Security posts were set up at 192 major intersections encircling the city, and some 850,000 volunteers conducted daily patrols to report any suspicious activities. Passengers on public transportation were subject to inspections equivalent to the level of airport security checks. The authorities announced that there was no upper budget limit for the operation to prevent a repeat of the mass protests in 1989, apparently wary of growing public dissatisfaction with official corruption, rights abuses, and environmental degradation. Renowned online activist Bei Feng reported that to prevent foreign students from participating in events commemorating the June 4 crackdown, the University of Political Science and Law in Beijing sent out a notice on May 29 requiring all foreign students to attend a “free study tour” to Inner Mongolia or the Beijing suburbs on June 3–4. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, where commemorations of the 1989 crackdown are still allowed despite growing restrictions on the territory’s traditional freedom of expression, about 3,000 marchers braved the hottest day of the year on June 1 to call for an official vindication of the 1989 prodemocracy movement. Lee Cheuk-yan, the organizer of the march, said he was “very satisfied” with the turnout, which had reportedly doubled in size compared with 2013. The march was to be followed by the main memorial event, a candlelight vigil on June 4, which was expected to draw at least 150,000 people to Hong Kong’s Victoria Park.

* Radio Free Asia 5/30/2014: Party spies, security checkpoints cover Beijing ahead of anniversary 
* University of Political Science and Law 5/29/2014: Notice on organizing all foreign students to attend a free study tour 
South China Morning Post 6/2/2014: Thousands of Hongkongers march in memory of June 4 on hottest day of year 


Detentions expand in scope and severity ahead of June 4

As of June 3, the New York–based rights group Human Rights in China (HRIC) had documented 91 cases of criminal or administrative detention, house arrest, police questioning, enforced disappearance, or forced travel since April in connection with the lead-up to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square military crackdown (see CMB No. 105). The Chinese authorities usually tighten restrictions on writers and activists ahead of the June 4 anniversary, but in past years most were placed under temporary house arrest or asked to “travel” out of town for a few days. This year, based on the list published by HRIC, 45 people were confirmed to have been arrested or detained on criminal charges, representing a significant escalation in the severity of the effort and its potential long-term impact should they be convicted. In another change from past years, several detainees have been charged with “creating a public disturbance,” a crime that carries up to five years in prison, simply for commemorating the Tiananmen crackdown in a private home. The following cases illustrate the extent of this year’s restrictions:

Xin Jian: The Chinese news assistant for Japan’s Nikkei news agency was taken from her home on May 13 and has been held on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” The detention is allegedly connected with an interview she conducted with human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who is also under arrest for commemorating the Tiananmen anniversary on May 3 in a private home.

Guo Jian: The Australian artist was taken from his home in Beijing on June 1, hours after the publication of an interview he gave on the Tiananmen crackdown. In the interview, Guo reportedly discussed his creation of a diorama of Tiananmen Square covered in 160 kilograms of minced pork.

Liu Wei: A factory worker in Chongqing, Liu was taken by the police to Beijing and criminally detained on May 17 after posting a photo on the internet of himself in Tiananmen Square. He is held on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Liu had been sentenced to two years in a “reeducation through labor” camp in 2011 for posting information about a “Jasmine Revolution,” and had since been under close surveillance.

Xiang Nanfu: A regular contributor to the New York–based news website Boxun, Xiang was said to have transmitted information regarding land grabs and police violence to Boxun. He was detained on May 3 on charges of supplying “fabricated information” that “seriously harmed” China’s image. In mid-May, he was shown on state television admitting his guilt, the latest in a series of such televised confessions by journalists and bloggers.

Tang Jingling: The prominent Guangzhou-based human rights lawyer was placed under criminal detention on May 16, after police searched his home and confiscated computers and other materials. Tang was reportedly kicked and beaten in detention.

* Human Rights in China 6/3/2014: Restrictions, detentions, and disappearances before June 4, 2014 
* Chinese Human Rights Defenders 6/3/2014: Individuals affected by government crackdown around 25th anniversary of Tiananmen massacre
* South China Morning Post 5/14/2014: State media asserts sexual misconduct claims against detained Boxun journalist 
* Radio Free Asia 5/21/2014: Chinese rights lawyer beaten in detention, writer questioned 
* Reuters 5/31/2014: Tiananmen Square anniversary prompts campaign of silence 
* Reporters Without Borders 5/13/2014: Another journalist arrested as Tiananmen anniversary approaches 
Financial Times 5/28/2014: China holds Nikkei news assistant ahead of Tiananmen anniversary 
Guardian 6/2/2014: Australian artist arrested for marking Tiananmen anniversary 


Censors target June 4 social-media mentions, search results

As the June 4 anniversary approached, censors in China were in full swing, obstructing the circulation of information and commentary about the events of 1989. Tests by websites likeChina Digital Times and the blog Fei Chang Dao found that search engines including Baidu and Qihoo as well as the search function on the microblogging services of Sina and Tencent were censoring results for a large number of related terms. These ranged from the obvious—such as “June 4,” “Tiananmen Mothers” (a loose network of mothers whose children were killed in the massacre), or “Wu’er Kaixi” (one of the 1989 student movement’s leaders, now in exile)—to code words commonly used by netizens, such as “May 35” or “willow silk” (a homonym for “six-four” in Chinese). As often occurs ahead of particularly sensitive dates, some of the terms censored were more general phrases like “Tiananmen,” “25 years,” or even “this day.” Despite the authorities’ efforts to contain commemoration of the event, netizens across the political spectrum were discussing it, as evident from the large number of deleted posts documented by projects like Hong Kong University’s Weiboscope. In one example, a Sina Weibo user wrote: “This will definitely be deleted. But still I will post a June 4 tweet and get myself banned from Weibo! Heaven will forbid such lies.” The controversial neo-Maoist and nationalist professor Kong Qinghong had his Weibo account shuttered after he posted a message challenging the official line that the students were “rioting” rather than peacefully protesting.

* Global Voices 5/31/2014: Censors on, China still doesn’t want anyone talking about Tiananmen Square
New York Times 5/26/2014: Tiananmen comment eyed after professor’s microblog vanishes 
China Digital Times 5/27/2014: Sensitive words: May thirty-fifth and more 
China Digital Times 5/22/2014: Sensitive words: Tiananmen, Bo Xilai, more 
Fei Chang Dao 6/1/2014: China’s major internet companies censor nonsense (literally) in an effort to block information about events on June 4, 1989


Foreign web services face more intense blocking

Alongside domestic censorship, the Chinese government’s efforts to restrict citizens’ access to foreign websites and news sources have intensified in recent days. Most notably, internet users and activists have reported obstructions to a wide variety of Google products—including Gmail, Google search engines (including foreign versions like Google France), the Picasa photo-sharing platform, and Google Translate—rendering them inaccessible to most users in China. The blocking is not complete but rather a disruption that affects most users and could lead them to conclude that it is a technical problem on Google’s part. Google stated that there is “nothing wrong on our end,” and its Transparency Report confirms a clear drop in traffic from China since June 1. According to the website, which initially reported the so-called throttling, the phenomenon has lasted for several days, much longer than previous incidents (such as a 12-hour block in 2012; see CMB No. 74), raising the possibility that the new restrictions may be permanent. The U.S.-based microblogging service Twitter was first blocked in 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, and it has remained inaccessible ever since. Meanwhile, other media reported blocks on the Wall Street Journal’s English- and Chinese-language websites, and cases of foreign correspondents being summoned by Chinese officials for lectures to dissuade them from covering the anniversary. The spokesman for the LinkedIn professional networking platform told reporters that “censorship requirements” had recently been imposed on the company’s new Chinese-language service, though no further details were provided (see CMB No. 101).

South China Morning Post 6/2/2014: Google services partially disrupted in China ahead of Tiananmen anniversary 
* 6/2/2014: Google disrupted prior to Tiananmen anniversary; mirror sites enable uncensored access to information 
* Google Transparency Report 6/3/2014: China, all products 
New York Times 6/2/2014: China escalating attack on Google 
* Bloomberg News 6/3/2014: China cracks down on Google, Wall Street Journal 
Wall Street Journal 6/3/2014: China blocks Google ahead of Tiananmen anniversary 


U.S. House resolution urges end of Tiananmen censorship

On May 21, in a nearly unanimous vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on the Chinese authorities to stop censoring information about the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, and to end the harassment, detention, torture, and imprisonment of Chinese citizens who exercise their fundamental rights, including on the internet. Referring to Beijing’s information blackout while presenting a copy of the iconic “Tank Man” photograph, in which an unidentified civilian stands in the street to block a line of tanks on the morning after the massacre of prodemocracy protesters, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said, “If you were to go to China and ask young people about this picture, they know nothing about it.” On May 30, an editorial in the Chinese Communist Party–owned newspaper Global Times condemned the “rascally varmints” in Congress and their “anti-China bill.” The piece made only an oblique reference to the “1989 political incident,” focusing instead on China’s rejection of U.S. criticism and the country’s economic achievements since the early 1990s.

Washington Examiner 5/29/2014: Congressional leaders commemorate Tiananmen massacre as China cracks down on democracy activists
* Associated Press 5/30/2014: U.S. lawmakers remember Tiananmen 
* U.S. Congress 5/28/2014: House Resolution 599, 113th Congress 
* Agence France-Presse 5/29/2014: House passes resolution calling on China to stop censoring Tiananmen Square news 
Global Times 5/30/2014: Congress’ malevolent bill falls on deaf ears

Notable Analysis: The People’s Republic of Amnesia

A new book by former National Public Radio correspondent Louisa Lim revisits the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square prodemocracy movement, exploring its legacy for modern China and how the Chinese Communist Party has sought to rewrite history. Lim introduces readers to former officials, soldiers, and family members of those killed in the crackdown, all of whose lives were transformed by the events of June 1989. Drawing on extensive interviews and documentary evidence, she brings to light previously little-known incidents of abuse outside Beijing at the time, including one particularly brutal episode in Chengdu. Recent reviews in the Economist and the New York Times Book Review commend her meticulous recording of what remains a national tragedy and an unhealed wound for China.

* Oxford University Press 6/4/2014: The People’s Republic of Amnesia
Economist 5/31/2014: Aging rebels, bitter victims
New York Times 5/23/2014: An inconvenient past



CCTV executives investigated for corruption

The official Xinhua news agency reported on June 1 that Guo Zhenxi, director of the financial news channel operated by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), had been detained along with producer Tian Liwu on suspicion of corruption, citing an announcement made by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. According to state media reports, Guo had been with CCTV since 1992 and spent several years overseeing its advertising department. He managed influential shows including an annual program coinciding with World Consumer Rights Day that investigates misconduct by businesses. He was suspected of accepting bribes to pick targets for such programs, which in recent years have focused on major foreign enterprises like U.S. technology giant Apple and coffee retailer Starbucks (see CMB Nos. 9597). In a June 3 article, the Communist Party–owned Global Times repeated reports that Guo may have been questioned in connection with a case against Li Dongsheng, a former vice minister of public security and former CCTV deputy director who in turn was linked to former internal security chief Zhou Yongkang, the target of a sprawling state and party investigation (see CMB No. 100). The news of Guo’s detention surfaced amid a widening government crackdown on official corruption. “With his powerful position within this powerful organization—which enjoys a national television monopoly—you can imagine how many people stand in line to bribe him,” said Deng Yuwen , a former deputy editor for the party newspaper Study Times, in an interview with Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.

South China Morning Post 6/2/2014: Top prosecutor alleges that CCTV official took bribes 
Want China Times 6/2/2014: CCTV executive disappears, colleagues told not to contact again 
* Reuters 6/2/2014: China investigates senior state TV official over bribery—Xinhua 
Global Times 6/3/2014: Senior CCTV producer investigated for bribe-taking 



Tencent fires outspoken blogger after meeting with John Kerry

Zhang Jialong, a popular Chinese blogger who had met U.S. secretary of state John Kerry during his trip to China in February, was dismissed on May 23 by the internet portal Tencent, where he served as a finance reporter. Known for his outspoken criticism of official restrictions on freedom of speech, Zhang was invited by the U.S. embassy in Beijing to discuss censorship issues with Kerry (see CMB No. 100). During the February 15 meeting, he urged the secretary to help the Chinese people “tear down the great internet firewall.” He also expressed concerns about the extended, extralegal house arrest of Liu Xia, wife of jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. According to Zhang, Tencent specified that his firing—a decision made after consultations with the government and the Communist Party Propaganda Department—was prompted by his meeting with U.S. officials and his detailed online revelation of official media directives. Though it took Tencent more than three months to hand down the decision, possibly to avoid attention from foreign journalists, Zhang’s supervisor told him on February 17, the first work day after the Kerry meeting, that he could no longer publish under his own name, and that he could ultimately be fired. Meanwhile, the authorities had ordered all web portals to remove reporting about the meeting, and Zhang’s articles were censored on Tencent’s microblogging platform.

* Agence France-Presse 5/26/2014: China blogger ‘fired’ after John Kerry meeting 
Bloomberg Businessweek 5/28/2014: Chinese blogger says he was fired from Tencent after meeting John Kerry 
* China Change 5/24/2014: Circumstances of my dismissal from Tencent 
* IFEX 5/27/2014: Journalist Zhang Jialong latest victim of China’s notorious online censorship system 


Authorities announce campaign to censor WeChat, other messaging apps

Amid the growing popularity of smartphone messaging applications and their potential to affect public opinion, the official Xinhua news agency reported on May 27 that the government had launched a month-long “special operation” to restrict content circulated on these apps, in particular Tencent’s WeChat, which the article said has more than 800 million users in China. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Public Security, and the State Internet Information Office are the three agencies leading the campaign, targeting messages deemed to contain rumors, fraud, terrorism, violence, or pornography. Officials will reportedly focus on “public accounts,” a type often used by companies, news outlets, and celebrities to reach large audiences, but the campaign will presumably include messages circulated among social groups through personal accounts. Tencent has set a limit of 5,000 friends per personal account, and in March it closed down dozens of public WeChat accounts that had carried news or commentary on current affairs (see CMB No. 102). Over the past year, the authorities have cracked down on the more public microblogging platform Sina Weibo, leading to a drop-off in discussion and a migration of users to WeChat. With officials now turning their attention to mobile messaging apps, one user warned, “The whole Internet cutoff is what the authorizes hope to see. Today’s Weibo is tomorrow’s WeChat.”

* Global Voices 5/29/2014: China puts squeeze on WeChat and other messaging apps 
Telegraph 5/28/2014: New campaign to rein in WeChat—China’s instant messaging 
Wall Street Journal 5/28/2014: Beijing launches crackdown on WeChat, other messaging apps
Beijing Evening News 5/28/2014: 微信违法违规行为将被整治 [WeChat violations to be regulated] 



Jailed Uighur scholar’s family loses income, over 200 arrested for online videos

In an interview with Radio Free Asia on May 16, Guzelnur, the wife of prominent Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, said she had not heard any news from him since his detention in January, adding that the family had been struggling financially since his disappearance. Tohti, an economics professor at Central Nationalities University for more than 25 years, was charged with separatism in February after the authorities accused him of encouraging his students to use violence against the government and recruiting followers through his minority rights website, Uyghur Online (see CMB No. 103). International freedom of expression organizations and overseas Uighur advocacy groups have questioned the credibility of the charges against him, pointing to Tohti’s track record of moderate commentary and nonviolence. According to Guzelnur, the university had stopped paying Tohti’s salary in April and claimed that it was unable to bear responsibility for his case. Facing psychological pressure from constant police surveillance surrounding the household, one of the couple’s sons has become ill. The government’s heavy-handed efforts to suppress Xinjiang-based terrorism, along with any peaceful advocacy of Uighur rights or identity, have often targeted online media. On May 12, the Global Times, a Communist Party–owned newspaper, reported that police in Xinjiang had arrested 232 people since the end of March for “dissemination of violent or terrorist videos.” The article also quoted a Xinjiang terrorism expert who warned of the dangers of social-media platforms, namely WeChat and Weibo, which “allow quick and widespread transmission of rumors and misleading messages such as accusing the government of oppression.” Independent experts have argued that Beijing’s decades of repressive and discriminatory policies against Uighurs have led to the violence in the region, and that harsher crackdowns will only encourage extremism.

* Radio Free Asia 5/16/2014: Jailed Uyghur academic’s salary stopped, wife says 
Global Times 5/12/2014: 232 held for spread of terrorism in Xinjiang 
Wall Street Journal 5/26/2014: The danger of heavy-handed tactics in Xinjiang 
Time 5/12/2014: China cracks down on ‘terrorist videos,’ arrests more than 200 


Tibetan monk goes into exile after assisting jailed filmmaker

Golog Jigme Gyatso, a monk who helped filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen shoot the 2008 documentary Leaving Fear Behind, has safely escaped Tibet and gone into exile in India, the Phayul news service reported on May 19. Jigme had been arrested and beaten multiple times since the film emerged, featuring rare interviews in which ordinary Tibetans discussed government oppression. He had not been heard from since his last known arrest in September 2012 (see CMB No. 76). Wangchen is due to complete a six-year prison term on June 5 (see CMB No. 78).

* Reporters Without Borders 5/23/2014: Tibetan ‘information hero’ finally free 
* Phayul 5/19/2014: Monk who assisted jailed filmmaker escapes into exile 



U.S. indicts Chinese officers for hacking, Beijing phasing out U.S. computer firms

Bloomberg News reported on May 27 that the Chinese government is reviewing whether high-end servers made by U.S.-based International Business Machines (IBM) and used by many Chinese banks compromise the country’s financial security. Chinese financial regulators, including the People’s Bank of China and the Ministry of Finance, have reportedly started implementing a pilot program to replace IBM servers with a domestic brand. The results are to be submitted to a working group on internet security chaired by President Xi Jinping. The news, a sign of escalating tension between Beijing and Washington over claims of cyberespionage, came shortly after the U.S. Department of Justice on May 19 announced the indictment of five Chinese army officers for alleged hacking and economic espionage (see CMB No. 104). The indictment accused the Chinese officers of stealing trade secrets and internal documents from five U.S. companies and a labor union. A private research company estimates that purchases of information and communication technology in China will rise to $125 billion this year, but the market is relying less on U.S. companies, especially after last June’s revelations on U.S. spying programs by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. In mid-May, the Chinese government also announced that it would start vetting U.S. technology companies operating in China for potential security risks. The China Central Government Procurement Center reportedly excluded U.S.-based Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system from a recent round of computer purchases for “security” reasons. The U.S. State Department said the review regarding IBM servers is an act of unjustified retaliation against U.S. businesses for a legitimate law enforcement investigation by the Department of Justice.

* BBC 5/19/2014: US Justice Department charges Chinese with hacking 
Foreign Policy 5/27/2014: Exclusive: Inside the FBI's fight against Chinese cyber-espionage
* Bloomberg 5/27/2014: China said to study IBM servers for bank security risks