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Beijing Punishes Chinese People for Accessing Overseas Social Media

In recent years, while the Chinese Communist regime has an iron grip on domestic websites and social media, it has punished netizens who use VPN software to circumvent the Internet fire wall and express themselves on foreign social media such as Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. The suppression it uses includes home visits from the police to issue warnings, deletion of posts and closure of accounts, and imprisonment for those who publish unfavorable comments about the government.

The court may soon hear the case of Shen Liangqing, a former prosecutor and human rights activist in Anhui Province. Last year, the authorities arrested him on suspicion of “disturbing the peace.” The evidence against him in the indictment involves his comments on Twitter and Facebook.

According to the information provided by the website of Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, the indictment claimed that between 2017 and May 2019 when he was arrested, Shen Liangqing used information networks and software to post articles on overseas social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, attracting more than 20,000 followers. The indictment also stated that some of Shen’s posts were “false information” in that they “distorted” historical events and socially sensitive topics to attack and disrupt the normal social order. The indictment added that there were 42 pieces of this kind of information on Twitter, with a total of 470,000 clicks. On Facebook, 13 pieces of the aforementioned content were reposted 16 times and liked 130 times.

A well-known netizen and human rights activist with an account name “xiucaijianghu,” whose real name is Wu Bin, from Huzhou, Zhejiang, has been arrested and punished for “spreading rumors” and “disturbing the peace.” His Weibo and WeChat accounts have been suspended many times. So was his Twitter account. On March 24 this year, the authorities of Zhouzhou city of Hunan province took “xiucaijianghu” away due to his on-line comments, and he lost contact. He said on his new Twitter account in September this year: “The government forcibly closed my Twitter account using my mobile phone. One hundred thousand followers and ten years of tweets disappeared.”

A Chinese student with the surname Luo studied in the United States in 2018. He was detained after his return to China in 2019 because he posted satirical content about Xi Jinping and he was later charged with “disturbing the peace” and sentenced to half a year. The case reportedly attracted the attention of a few US lawmakers, including Republican Senator Ben Sasse and Marco Rubio. Sasse said, “This is what ruthless and paranoid totalitarianism looks like.”

In July of this year a Chinese student, who was studying in Melbourne, Australia, used humorous language and pictures to ridicule the Chinese authorities on Twitter. The police in China constantly harassed her family members, and her father was even taken to the police station to be interrogated. In addition to receiving a direct call from the Chinese police and being forced to surrender her Twitter account’s password, she also received death threats.

Chinese netizens may also be punished for simply using VPN to browse overseas websites or use overseas social media. According to a report from “Bitter Winter,” a European online magazine focusing on religious freedom and human rights in China, on May 19 this year, the police in Ankang city of Shaanxi province issued an administrative warning and a fine to a man for accessing the overseas Internet using circumvention software.

Source: Voice of America, November 10, 2020