China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 27 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 27

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

Issue No. 27: June 30, 2011

Jailed activist Hu Jia released under tight restrictions
Security, propaganda ramped up ahead of '09 unrest date
Renren stock price plunges amid risk concerns
Taiwan ex-president's jail writing approved; food blogger fined
Former German chancellor praises red song campaign

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Silent and censored, Ai Weiwei faces murky tax penalty

The Chinese government has claimed that prominent Chinese artist and blogger Ai Weiwei, who was released on bail on June 22 in Beijing, agreed to repay 7.3 million yuan ($2 million) in taxes and fines allegedly owed by his company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development. However, Ai's mother, Gao Ying, told journalists that he refused to sign related documents brought by tax officials to his studio on June 27. Ai, who is known as an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, has apparently been banned from giving media interviews, leaving Beijing, and using the microblogging service Twitter for a year. Journalist Wen Tao, who was detained along with Ai on April 3 at Beijing International Airport, and some of Ai's employees-including accountant Hu Mingfen, designer Liu Zhenggang, and driver Zhang Jinsong--were also freed on June 23 and 24. While state media have provided only vague descriptions of his alleged tax evasion, Ai's lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, has launched an online fundraising campaign to help the artist pay off the stated sum. Meanwhile, censorship of Ai's name and related terms remains tight. A test conducted by China Media Bulletin's editors showed that on the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, searches for keywords related to the artist, such as "future" (wei) and the nickname "Fatty Ai" (Ai Pangzi), do not generate any results.

* New York Times 6/28/2011: Chinese tax authorities seeking $2 million from dissident artist <>
* Reuters 6/25/2011: Released Chinese artist-activist Ai's associates freed <>
* China Digital Times 6/24/2011: Leaked propaganda directives and banned "future" <>


Jailed activist Hu Jia released under tight restrictions

Prominent AIDS and environmental activist Hu Jia was released on June 26 after serving three and a half years in prison. His wife, Zeng Jinyan, posted on Twitter: "Sleepless night. Hu Jia arrived home at 2:30 in the morning. Safe, very happy. Needs to rest for a while." Hu remains confined to his home, which is surrounded by a tight police cordon. He has been deprived of "political rights" for one year, which typically includes being barred from speaking to the media. But he reportedly gave a brief telephone interview to a Hong Kong television station in which he reflected on whether to resume his activism and stressed the importance of being "loyal to your conscience." Hu was convicted of "inciting subversion of state power" in April 2008, having made critical comments about the Chinese Communist Party's human rights record in advance of the Olympics on his blog, in interviews with the foreign media, and in testimony to the European Parliament. Chinese Human Rights Defenders reported that upon Hu's release, several other Beijing activists began facing tighter restrictions on their movement.

* Human Rights in China 6/27/2011: Hu Jia released <>
* Washington Post 6/2/2011: Hu Jia, prominent Chinese dissident, released from prison <>
* Agence France-Presse 6/28/2011: Freed China critic says wants to resume activism <>
* Chinese Human Rights Defenders 6/29/2011: China Human Rights Briefing June 22-28, 2011 <>



Local officials punish netizens for blogs, text messages

A number of Chinese citizens in various provinces have reportedly been detained or jailed by local authorities in recent weeks for circulating information online or via text messages. The following are a sample of such cases, though their full details have yet to be independently confirmed:
- Beijing: Wang Yuqin, a Beijing-based online journalist, was detained for two weeks in June after she appealed for medical treatment for her detained husband, Yang Qiuyu, according to Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch. Yang was seized by police on March 6 after he took photographs in Beijing amid heightened security as calls for a Tunisian-style Jasmine Revolution in China circulated on the internet.
- Guangzhou: The International Federation of Journalists reported on June 22 that several internet users had been punished by local public security bureaus in Guangdong. The group cited increasing use of the Public Security Administration Punishment Law, which enables officials to punish anyone based on suspicion of causing social unrest. In early June, at least three netizens were reportedly detained in Guangzhou for allegedly posting online rumors about police brutality and street crimes during mass protests by migrant workers.
- Guizhou: On June 20, state-run Xinhua news agency reported the case of an internet user who was punished with 10 days of detention for posting online details of a suspected violation of land regulations during the relocation of a hospital in Guizhou province.
- Sichuan: On June 10, the Falun Dafa Information Center reported that two Falun Gong adherents in Sichuan were sentenced in March to five and a half years and six years in prison for sending text messages. The two, Su Lijuan and Feng Juan, had reportedly sent messages in April 2010 urging people to gather outside Xichang Court to show solidarity during the trial of another Falun Gong adherent.

* IFEX 6/22/2011: Journalists and internet users face retribution <>
* Falun Dafa Information Center 6/10/2011: Falun Gong News Bulletin: June 10, 2011 <>


Independent electoral candidates suffer harassment

After a June 9 article in the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily warned citizens not to run for local legislatures, several independent candidates who had organized online campaigns were harassed by the authorities. Cao Tian, a wealthy businessman, author, and former 1989 political prisoner, had announced that he was running for mayor of Henan's capital, Zhengzhou, on his blog on June 6. He subsequently received a telephone call from a local official, telling him that "the first bird that takes wing is the first bird to get shot." On June 17, Cao was reportedly forced to leave Zhengzhou. While his whereabouts remain unknown, a team formed by police and officials from tax and land bureaus have begun investigations of his company and personal activities. On June 17, a Jiangxi-based candidate named Li Si-hua was charged with signature forgery, as authorities alleged that 5 of the 200 names on his nomination form were forged. Prominent attorney Xu Zhiyong, a former independent representative to Beijing's People's Congress, reported on Twitter on June 18 that he too had been warned by authorities not to campaign in the next elections. The elections are for local legislatures, which hold limited power and are dominated by Communist Party-chosen delegates.

* Global Voices 6/26/2011: China: Update on in the independent candidate campaigns <>
* NTDTV 6/21/2011: Independent Chinese candidate Cao Tian missing: <>


Blogger stokes charity group's credibility crisis

After the executive vice president of the Shanghai-based Red Cross Society of China (RCSC), Wang Wei, admitted on June 28 that the organization had spent an extra 4.2 million yuan ($649,800) on an unauthorized project, its reputation was further damaged by a blogger nicknamed Guo Meimei, who claimed to be the general manager of the "Red Cross Chamber of Commerce," an apparently fictitious entity. On her Sina Weibo microblog account, Guo posted photographs of herself leaning on a Maserati convertible and carrying designer handbags, showing off her supposed lavish lifestyle as a Red Cross employee. Her account drew more than 100,000 followers within a week, and posts from netizens showed they were upset at the notion that she was siphoning funds from the charity. Most of Guo's blog entries were deleted due to her falsified identity. The RCSC issued two statements denying any links to Guo, but many angry netizens have decided to boycott the organization, which has faced multiple scandals over misuse of donated funds (see CMB No. 20).

* Financial Times 6/29/2011: Biggest casualty of China audit: philanthropy? <>
* South China Morning Post 6/29/2011: Red Cross admits it misused public funds <>


Youku and Warner Bros. to expand on-demand movie market

Youku, China's biggest video-streaming site, announced on June 28 that it had signed a three-year agreement with the U.S. entertainment company Warner Bros. Having purchased rights to stream the Warner Bros. film Inception in December last year, Youku will now add another 450 Warner movies to its pay-per-view Youku Premium library, charging users 5 yuan ($0.70) per film. The paid platform has processed 200,000 transactions for more than 300 movies and 3,880 educational programs since its trial version was launched last October. The growing popularity of on-demand movies in China is giving Hollywood a foothold in the country's broader movie market, which is known for rampant piracy and a strict quota system for theater releases of foreign films. Meanwhile, the international video-sharing site YouTube remains blocked in China, and Youku has faced growing pressure from Chinese authorities in recent years to tighten procedures for screening user-posted videos.

* Penn Olson 6/28/2011: Youku inks deal with Warner Bros, will add 400+ premium titles <>
* Freedom House 4/2/2009: Freedom House dismayed by new Chinese internet restrictions <//>


Sina Weibo to launch relationship-focused features

China's popular microblog platform Sina Weibo, which serves 57 percent of China's microblog users and boasted more than 140 million users as of March, is launching a new version of its site. Added features will allow members to differentiate "real friends" and "fans," and the site's "most influential" users will be assigned personal technical assistants. While denying that Sina Weibo would turn into a copycat of the globally popular social-networking site Facebook, which is blocked in China, Sina chief executive Charles Chao said the new site would create "stronger social relationships" among users. Sina's competitors in China include Renren, Baidu, and Tencent. Renren is an established social-networking site. Baidu, best known for its search engine, aims to turn its popular message board Baidu Tieba into a social network. Tencent, which owns China's most popular instant-messaging platform, QQ, has developed Qzone as a social network for QQ users. Multiple tests run by China Media Bulletin's editors indicate that Sina frequently removes posts on sensitive topics and comments that are critical of the Chinese government. On June 28, Sina Weibo suffered its first major virus attack. Fake posts followed by a URL starting with "," which appeared like a Sina subpage, lured users into clicking on the link and infecting their accounts, which then automatically reposted the link to infect their followers.

* Wall Street Journal 6/27/2011: China's 'Twitter' has big dreams <>
* Tech Rice 6/28/2011: Sina Weibo attacked by virus, how safe is China's internet? <>


Chinese students hope for jobs with Facebook and Google

China HR, a Chinese recruitment website, recently released its "2011 Best Employers List of Chinese University Students," an annual survey of some 200,000 students in 265 cities in China. Among the top 10 companies in the "online entertainment-industry employers" section, video-streaming site Youku was ranked third, followed by social-networking site Renren. Interestingly, the U.S.-based social-networking site Facebook, which is blocked and has no subsidiary in China, also made the list. The U.S.-based technology giant Google, despite its many conflicts with the Chinese government over internet censorship, is ranked ahead of Sina, Sohu, and Yahoo! China in the "internet/e-commerce" section.

* Penn Olsen 6/27/2011: Chinese university students picked desired tech employers <>
* ChinaHR 6/23/2011 (in Chinese): 2011 Best Employers List of Chinese University Students <>



Security, propaganda ramped up ahead of '09 unrest date

The Chinese authorities have stepped up police surveillance in Xinjiang in advance of July 5, which marks the second anniversary of ethnic unrest in the capital, Urumqi, during which at least 200 people were killed, according to official figures. Citizens in Gulja, near the border with Kazakhstan, reported that armored vehicles were patrolling the streets. The government has also launched a propaganda campaign for an upcoming convention. Residents in Urumqi told Radio Free Asia on June 24 that officials have sent out text messages promoting the China-Eurasia Expo, an Urumqi-based trade fair that will be held from September 1 to 5, showcasing Xinjiang's energy and mineral resources.

* Radio Free Asia 6/24/2011: Security tight in Xinjiang <>



Renren stock price plunges amid risk concerns

During the two months since its initial public offering (IPO) in the United States, shares of the Chinese social-networking website Renren have lost over half their value. On June 24, Renren's stock stood at $6.23, down from $14 when it went public in May, though it has since recovered slightly. Analysts say the company is suffering from broader investor reluctance to buy Chinese stocks after several cases of fraudulent accounting surfaced. Although such allegations have not been leveled at Renren, the company is facing concerns over growing competition from other Chinese social-media websites, its own compliance with Chinese government censorship orders, and the sudden resignation of a key board member. Renren's spokesperson said the company values corporate governance and transparency. According to Reuters, Renren had listed Beijing's censorship rules in the risk-factor section of its IPO prospectus in April, hinting that the website could be shut down if it does not comply with directives from the Chinese government and the Communist Party.

* Reuters 6/25/2011: Has Renren suffered enough from China stocks phobia? <>


Taiwan ex-president's jail writing approved; food blogger fined

On June 24, Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou affirmed the right of his jailed predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, to publish a political column in the Taipei-based Next Media Magazine, noting that the constitution does not restrict an inmate's freedom of speech. Citing concerns that Chen might harm their agency's reputation, the prison authorities had previously refused to mail his submission to the magazine. Chen was convicted on corruption charges in 2009. In a separate case that received international attention, a blogger in Taichung City was sentenced to two years' probation and a 200,000 NT ($7,000) fine for defamation after she wrote a negative review of a restaurant. The Taiwan High Court ruled that since she had only been there once and tasted just three dishes, her claims-including that all the food was "too salty" and that the owner was rude-were overgeneralizations that lacked evidence.

* Agence France-Presse 6/24/2011: Taiwan president approves ex-leader's jail writing <>
* China Times 6/28/2011 (in Chinese): Taipei Jail: Taiwan ex-president jail writing allowed with conditions <>
* Time 6/25/2011: Taiwanese blogger fined $7,000 for negative restaurant review <>


Former German chancellor praises red song campaign

On June 20, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported that former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder had expressed a strong interest in Chongqing's red song campaign during his visit to the city for the 2011 Liangjiang Forum. The municipal government has been promoting revolutionary songs among its residents to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in July (see link below for photographs). According to Xinhua, Schröder praised the creativity of the "sing-read-speak-spread" aspect of the campaign, and suggested that Chongqing's red song artists carry out cultural activities with German art groups. Critics of the campaign have raised concerns about the revival of Maoist-era practices and the waste of public resources.

* Xinhua 6/20/2011 (in Chinese): Former German chancellor Schröder: I have been wanting to listen to Chongqing's red songs <>
* Washington Post 6/27/2011: Chinese Communist Party's 90th anniversary <>


Taiwan telecom renews Falun Gong–linked TV station contract

On June 27, Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom (CHT), a partly government-owned telecommunications company, and New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV), whose staff are mostly Falun Gong practitioners, officially renewed their contract, allowing NTDTV to use CHT's new satellite after the existing contract expires in August. The agreement enables the station to continue broadcasting uncensored news, including reports of human rights abuses and citizen activism, to Taiwan as well as major cities in mainland China. CHT had initially announced in April that it would not renew the contract, citing technical obstacles, but critics speculated that the company was aiming to please Beijing, as it had joint ventures with Chinese state-owned companies. During its negotiations, NTDTV received international support from both Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. Congress, and from the Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders. The station's chief executive in Taiwan thanked the island's ruling and opposition parties for their assistance, while a Taipei Times editorial hailed the development as a victory for press freedom.

* Taipei Times 6/28/2011: A small victory for freedom <>
* NTDTV 6/29/2011: NTD AP and Chunghwa Renew Satellite Broadcast Contract <>



Congressional roundtable covers internet dynamics, effects of recent crackdown

On June 23, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China held a roundtable discussion titled "Current Conditions for Human Rights Defenders and Lawyers in China, and Implications for U.S. Policy." Among the speakers was Freedom House Asia Research Analyst Sarah Cook, who described the creative use of new media by activists, the wide array of internet controls they face in response, and the Communist Party's long-term tendency to use extralegal means to suppress dissent. Elizabeth Wickeri of Fordham Law School emphasized the tangible chilling effect that the spate of recent abductions has had on previously outspoken human rights defenders. Other panel experts were scholars Li Xiaorong and Margaret Lewis. The speakers' written statements are available online, as is a webcast of the event.

Congressional Executive Commission on China 6/23/2011: Urgent conditions for human rights defenders and lawyers in China and implications for U.S. policy <>