In drive to strengthen one-party rule, China treats Internet ‘as ideological battlefield’

Activist Liu Ping is one of many recent victims of crackdown on dissent

Activist Liu Ping: one of many recent victims of crackdown on dissent

From Democracy Digest:

Since Xi Jinping came to power just less than a year ago, China Digital Times notes, hopes that his administration would oversee substantial political reform have been dissipating amid frequent crackdowns on the country’s media and developing civil society. An infographic from the South China Morning Post plots arrests under the new administration’s watch to show that state suppression of the politically-liberal is gaining momentum.

The Economist outlines the Communist authorities’ efforts to shape public opinion by treating the Internet as an ideological battlefield:

Authorities have […] made clear that microbloggers who break the strictures can be treated just as if they were causing a real-world ruckus. On August 21st Legal Evening News reported that Beijing police now consider the online world as much a public space as the real one. It was a “judicial breakthrough” that appears to be the legal basis for some recent detentions.

Zhang Qianfan, a professor of law at Peking University, recently wrote a critique of this legal approach, suggesting that order cannot be maintained on the internet, nor should it be. By nature, he wrote, the internet is a noisy place. “The government should step aside. Once it interferes with the internet, we will soon find it becomes the biggest rumour-monger.” [Source]

Since August, the government has taken into custody hundreds of Internet users accused of “spreading rumors” online, says Human Rights Watch:

Most have been released, but some remain detained under criminal charges. The campaign has targeted influential online opinion leaders, or what the state media call the “big Vs” (V for “verified users”).

The just-concluded trial of former Communist Party boss Bo Xilai was unprecedented in opening up a high-profile legal proceeding to public scrutiny, says legal scholar Jerome A. Cohen. The case also exposed rifts within the Communist elite as it grapples with everything from corruption to an economic slowdown, he tells the Council on Foreign Relations.

“They’re not repudiating a so-called Western legal system even though they say they can’t adopt it all,” Cohen says. “The fact is they can’t escape its influence and this trial shows it.” The platform of President Xi Jinping, he says, “is very mixed up. You have a very confused leadership.”

“In secret remarks on the final session of his trial, Bo Xilai, the fallen Communist Party star, denied that he had tried to upset the party’s selection of top leaders or grab extensive new powers for himself,” Edward Wong reports for The New York Times:

That part of Mr. Bo’s statement, providing a glimpse of the power politics many believe were behind the purging of Mr. Bo in 2012, did not appear in court transcripts released online Monday. The discussion appeared to have been kept from public view because officials overseeing the trial and party leaders wanted to prevent any mention of infighting among party elites, said a person briefed on the court proceedings.

“Some say I wanted to be China’s Putin,” Mr. Bo also said in his closing argument, referring to Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s strongman president, according to the document. “This is also completely untrue.”

The regime has undertaken a nationwide crackdown on perceived challengers to one-party rule, says Human Rights Watch:

Since February 2013 the government has arbitrarily detained at least 55 activists, taken into custody critics and online opinion leaders, and increased controls on social media, online expression, and public activism, rolling back the hard-won space China’s civil society has gained in recent years. ….The crackdown is unfolding as China campaigns to be elected to the United NationsHuman Rights Council, the UN’s preeminent human rights body, in November 2013, and prepares for the review of its human rights record before the council in October 2013.

“The Chinese government has embarked on a repressive drive at home that attacks the very freedoms that Human Rights Council members are supposed to protect,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Every arrest of a peaceful activist further undermines the Chinese government’s standing at home and abroad,” she said:

Seventeen of those arrested in recent months had participated in the New Citizens’ Movement, a peaceful civil rights platform that rejects authoritarianism and promotes freedom, justice, equality, and the rule of law. The New Citizens’ Movement organizes a range of activities, including a nationwide campaign that advocates for the disclosure of assets of public officials as a way to curb corruption, and monthly gatherings over meals for activists around the country to exchange ideas and build solidarity. On August 2, 2013, the State Prosecution approved the formal arrest of Xu Zhiyong, the most prominent activist detained so far and considered the intellectual force behind the New Citizens’ Movement.

“Xu Zhiyong (above) is one of the most important activists behind the birth of China’s ‘rights-defense’ movement that emerged around 2003,” Richardson said. “While Xu’s cautious approach has helped keep him out of jail for the past 10 years, his recent arrest indicates that even safer strategies won’t spare activists from severe consequences.”

According to Human Rights in China sources, Liu Ping (above), who was indicted in July for “illegal assembly”, has been charged with two new counts. The new charges are “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” and “using a cult to damage enforcement of the law”.

On April 21, 2013, Liu Ping participated in a protest in Xinyu, Jiangxi Province, calling for public disclosure of officials’ assets and the release of political prisoners. Liu, along with two other protestors Wei Zhongping, and Li Sihua, was criminally detained on April 28 (originally on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”) and formally arrested on June 4. All three are former independent candidates for the People’s Congress in Xinyu. Liu is currently being held at the Xinyu Municipal Detention Center.

For more information on Liu Ping, see:

Guangzhou Activist Guo Feixiong Criminally Detained, August 19, 2013

Activist Detained on Suspicion of “Inciting Subversion of State Power” after Calling for Disclosure of Officials’ Assets, May 9, 2013

Guo Feixiong: Open letter protests police brutality against two independent candidates in Xinyu, Jiangxi Province; account of incident, September 22, 2013

 Activist Accused of Inciting Subversion of State Power for Distributing Leaflets, May 9, 2012

Source:  Democracy Digest – “In drive to strengthen one-party rule, China treats Internet ‘as ideological battlefield”

2 Comments on “In drive to strengthen one-party rule, China treats Internet ‘as ideological battlefield’”

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