Twitter or jail? Chineses netizens have no ability to fight back

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Photo: You Tube screengrab

In China, posting on Twitter is synonymous with going to jail.

President Xi Jinping’s latest campaign to suppress internet activity manifested in a recent crackdown in Beijing.

This was due to China’s intensifying efforts to censor people’s online activities which led to the country’s police force questioning and detaining an increasing number of Twitter users even when the social media platform is blocked. According to a statement of a human-rights activist, if they did not give up Twitter, they would have lost one of the remaining venues for them to speak freely.

China has been closely monitoring what its citizens can see and say online but the recent crackdown shows that Beijing’s vision of internet control also covers social media around the world. Likewise, the Chinese government has increasingly demanded that Google and Facebook take down content that officials do not like even though both companies’ sites are inaccessible in China.

Although it is banned, Twitter plays an important role in political debate and the discussion of issues in the country. To access the service, a small but active community uses software to maneuver the government’s control system over what people can see online.

Based on statements from an analyst belonging to a pro-democracy research group based in the US, while Chinese media has taken advantage of the full features of these platforms to reach millions of people, ordinary Chinese have to risk interrogation and jail for using the same platforms to communicate with each other and the outside world.

Statements by Twitter users who were questioned or detained, police authorities employed threats and physical restraints. In a report, Huang Chengcheng, an activist with more than 8,000 Twitter followers, had his hands and feet shackled to a chair while he was grilled for eight hours in Chongqing. When the inquiry was over, he was allegedly asked to sign a promise to stay off Twitter.

In another report, Pan Xidian, a 47-year-old construction company employee in Xiamen with about 4,000 followers, confided that after he was detained he felt like they were ‘lambs’  who have been taken one after the other. He believed that they no longer have the ability to fight back.

A Chinese researcher, Yaqiu Wang, who chronicled the crackdown for the Human Rights Watch, observed that many activists want free speech despite getting harassed. According to him, these activists are very brave who continue to tweet despite intimidation. The researcher sees this act as an open show of defiance to censorship and oppression.