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Internet control during national congress tightest yet

HONG KONG (SE): Complaints have emerged from Internet followers of current affairs in China, who say that National People’s Congress, which some refer to as the annual parliament, held in Beijing from March 5 to 15, was marked by stricter-than-usual controls.

Radio Free Asia quoted Guangzhou-based writer, Xu Lin, as saying that many of the more outspoken members of the popular chat network QQ had their accounts shut down at the beginning of March, with fresh accounts also deleted as soon as they were set up.

“My QQ has been shut down twice in recent days,” Xu said. “The first time, they shut down three QQ accounts of mine at the same time, all of which had been in continuous use.”

He added, “I applied for another... but that was deleted a couple of days ago after I wrote a song and posted it on Shuoshuo space.”

A person giving only her surname as Huang said she had been unable to send out a long post via her Twitter-like social media account.

“I tried to send it using the headline function, but it just resulted in a white screen as soon as I pushed the button,” Huang said. “The draft was gone, too. They used to save the draft at least if it didn’t let you send something. After that, there was a lot of deletion of posts in our circle of friends.”

Suzhou-based rights advocate, Pan Lu, told Radio Free Asia that reports had emerged that several million social media accounts had been shut down during the congress sessions.

“As soon as the parliamentary sessions started, there was a social media crackdown on anything to do with human rights, democracy or constitutional politics,” Pan said. “Large numbers of accounts and groups on QQ and WeChat were shut down in a mass cleansing of the system through deletion.”

Pan said the Chinese Communist Party is unable to tolerate any form of power other than itself. “They don’t even allow civil society to debate... This parliament had nothing at all to do with democracy or constitutional government, and even less to do with ordinary Chinese people.”

Chengdu-based Huang Xiaomin said, “Local officials are under huge pressure from Beijing and they really go to town on the controls on the Internet. They are very, very nervous, and super-sensitive.”

Radio Free Asia reports that even the normally tame delegates to the congress have complained about the government stranglehold grip on the Internet through its system of blocks, filters and human censorship known collectively as the Great Firewall.

The vice-chairperson of the National People’s Congress advisory body, Luo Fuhe, made a call on March 1 for easier access to non-political overseas web content, but was met with a quick fire response from the propaganda ministry, as his comment was quickly censored in a directive to media editors.

“All websites, please find and delete reports and posts on Luo Fuhe’s Proposal to Improve and Increase Speed of Access to Foreign Websites as soon as possible,” the March 4 directive, leaked to the United States of America-based China Digital Times website, said.

But the Internet is not the only media to come under scrutiny. Two senior editors and a journalist at the Puyang Daily News in Henan were fined and censured after a character in the name of the premier, Li Keqiang, was left out of his name in a headline.

A sub-editor, Yang Dengfeng, was fined 200 yuan ($225), while his team leader received a fine of 1,000 yuan ($7,750) and was forced to write a self-criticism after the character qiang, which means strong, was omitted from Li’s name.

It was also reported that the editor-in-chief, Zhang Guang, and editorial board president, Meng Jin, had been suspended or dismissed.

A veteran journalist said that the typo should be regarded as a minor incident, but in today’s political climate, such things are being blown out of all proportion.

“In today’s climate, you’d be lucky not to get bumped off for this sort of thing,” the journalist said. “It shows that local officials are... being very quick to report things like this to higher levels of government.”


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