Chinese repression in the Twitter era

After Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Price, China is feeling increased pressure to change official attitudes towards freedom of speech. How can you silence the Twitterfeed?

Jason Lee / Reuters
China is under renewed pressure to recognize freedom of speech. This protester in Chengdu is representing the state point of view, shouting anti-Japan slogans in reference to disputed islands Diaoyu and Senkaku, Oct. 16. His protest gets national media attention, but Chinese dissidents may face imprisonment or other punishment.

The pressure has risen this week on the Chinese government to address their stance on universal rights and political reform. In the fallout from Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the debate has reignited over the Chinese government’s attitude to freedom of speech and its detention of political activists. The issue has escalated over the past few days with the release of open letters to the Chinese government, one from a group of Communist elders and another on Thursday night released by a group of writers, lawyers and activists.

These letters aim to highlight the lack of freedom in the country, attacking the repressive government that not only controls the public’s freedom of speech but also their own officials’. Even China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is not immune, with his speeches that include references to political reform being censored within China. Unfortunately, it appears that so far the impact of these letters has been limited – Chinese Twitter users say that all references to them have been deleted by the government from Chinese message boards. However, with the increasing growth in online social media as a form of communication it is hard to see how Chinese censorship on such issues is sustainable.

The 5th Plenum of the Communist Party of China began this weekend in Beijing, and it is hoped by the signatories of both papers that their actions will influence the speed of political reform. The letter released yesterday claims that, if it truly wants become a “great nation” and a key player on the world stage, China must embrace universal rights. The Chinese government cannot insulate its internal repression from international scrutiny any more – though it currently appears that the Chinese government is resisting calls for political reform, external and internal pressure can’t be ignored forever. Let’s hope that the risk taken by these few brave men and women in speaking out is not in vain and that someday China will become a country where universal rights prevail and the people are free.

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