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China: Current trends in censorship law

In September last year, Chinese authorities released a new set of regulations aimed at websites and blogs which show signs of democratic leanings or any behavior which might otherwise threaten the country's one-party rulers.

From Sophia Beach at China Digital Times:

It is worth noting that these new regulations include two additional categories of forbidden content compared with previously released regulations: 1) information inciting illegal assemblies, demonstrations, marches, or gatherings to disturb social order and 2) information released in the name of “illegal civil organizations.” This is an apparent attempt to target the capacity to organize online.

Following the design of this new law, online publishing in China has devolved into what increasingly appears to be something of a Whack-a-mole war, with blogs and BBS’ getting smacked right back down just as they start to move up.

A second report from CDT in March showed how these new rules led to the shutdown of three large Chinese websites: Angry Youth forum (January 19), the Chinese Election and Governance Web (March 7) and intellectual hotspot Aegean Sea (March 9). A post from the EastSouthNorthWest blogger (#047) in March linked these shutdowns to the cases of then-missing AIDS activist Hu Jia and Beijing or Bust blogger and documentarian Wu Hao, currently being held illegally by Chinese authorities.

Aside from growing tighter in recent months, the vice has also started clamping down on those who cast the mould, temper the steel, assemble the parts and package the finished product. The nature of the steadily-increasing number of rules suggest an increasingly desperate government, particularly with the forced shutdown in late February this year—just two months short of its one year anniversary which would have been this May 1—of the working class-oriented and legally-registered China Worker Web whose official crime was in not having RMB 10,000,000 (USD 1,248,200) in the bank.

In an interview with the Socialist Monthly Review webzine, one of the China Worker Web administrators spoke on behalf of the collectively-run website:

“They claim this is a controversial website, one that is political in content. Recently a law was passed that such websites must meet certain conditions before being set up: you need to have 10 million yuan (1.2 million US dollars) to register your site. Well, I haven't got that kind of money. As you can see in the announcement that we put out on our website, we stated that we are average working people, not in possession of 10 million yuan.

On one of our forums, someone suggested that, since there have been many millions of state workers laid off in the last decade, each one of them can invest 1 yuan and save the China Workers’ website!

If it were allowed, I could definitely find the support needed from workers to raise that fee. But the Party would allow no such thing. A Chinese student studying in the US wrote a piece in response asking, ‘Does this mean that if you have no money you have no right to speak your opinion?’ Workers should have the same right to expression that elite business owners have.”

Despite what the Chinese constitution says, it's not only farmers and factory workers who find themselves having to fight for that right. Civil rights lawyer Chen Yongmiao is in a position to speak on that.

Following the closure of Aegean Sea, he filed a law suit which challenges the constitutionality of giving the popular forum the hatchet job and has been giving updates on the lawsuit on his blog. The spokesperson for the group of civil rights lawyers working on behalf of the website, although the latest development in the case has been the refusal of Chinese courts to launch an investigation into the alleged violation of the Constitution in the closing down of Aegean Sea, Chen blogs on. In a post dated April 20, he says:

在一个后极权时代中,一方面是政治不断法律化,同时保留人治的特征,原来笼罩一切的黑洞政治还在辐射;另一方面已有的法律领域也不断政治化。作为民间力量,想把宪政中国带到当下的民间力量,就要在这种漩涡之中找出自己的诺亚方舟:一方面不要不自觉和中共当局一起摧毁中国法治的进程,另一方面又要适当“政治化”使抗争力量最大化。

In the midst of a post-authoritation era, politics are on one hand increasingly conforming to the law, simultaneously upholding the features of rule by the people and slowly erasing all the black holes in politics left over from before, but on the other hand the realm of law is also becoming more and more politicized. As for people power, in order to bring a constitutional China down to the public power base, one must first find in this maelstrom one's own Noah's ark. One part of that is to avoid unknowingly taking part in the Chinese Communist Party authorities’ process of tearing apart the rule of law but at the same time, politicization must be used appropriately to maximize opposition strength.

我认为“爱琴海维权”可以达到事实上废掉《互联网新闻信息服务管理规定》的效果。当我们向全国人大常委会提出和社会公开了有充分宪法依据的申请书,在道义上已经打倒国务院新闻办,把他们抛掷在无限风险之中:即使全国人大常委会不废除,那也成功地告诉了全社会《互联网新闻信息服务管理规定》的罩门所在。如果将来国务院新闻办和地方新闻办敢于用《互联网新闻信息服务管理规定》来关闭网站,那么将会有无数的人站起来,继续提出违宪审查,或者进行行政诉讼。无数的人提出危险在行政诉讼中,《互联网新闻信息服务管理规定》很有可能被当作违宪法规被法院宣告无效。

I believe that as the defenders of the rights of Aegean Sea, we will be able to undo the effect that the new management rules for internet news and information services have had. By openly presenting our requisition to both the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress [SCNPC] in accordance with the constitution and to the public, we've already struck a moral and just blow to the State News Department and thrown them into a precariousness that knows no bounds. Even if the SCNPC does not abolish these new internet regulations, it will have still have successfully shown all of society just where the loophole to these rules lies. If in the future the State News Department or local News Offices dare to use these rules as a means to shut down websites, there will then be countless numbers of people standing up, continuing to push for constitutional investigations, or else filing lawsuits against the administration. If countless numbers of people present a risk through lawsuits against the administration, these new internet management rules could very likely be ruled by the courts as in violation of the constitution and the law and thus be declared invalid.

While the Chinese Worker Web plight has gotten plenty of play on Chinese BBS’, there seems to be more talk of it on Taiwan blogs than on their Chinese counterparts. Li Wenqin, in a post dated February 25, blogs the story of how she discovered the loss of one of her favorite bookmarked sites:

2月21日深夜,我比較順利的進入中國工人網,卻赫然發現其中每個欄目的第一篇文章都是〈網站緊急告示:中國工人網即將關閉〉。在震驚與憤怒之餘,我也只能盡量下載一些資料,同時把這篇歷史性的告示保留下來,作為一個見證……

Late on the night of February 21, I got onto Chinese Worker Web quite smoothly, but was taken aback to see that in each frame was written ‘Urgent Notice: China Worker Web is now shut down.’ Overcome with shock and anger, the best I can do for now is to download what's left and save this historical notification, serve as a witness…

From an editorial on alternative media news site CoolLoud dated May 1, we see a hand stretched out not just in sympathy, but in solidarity as well:

目前中國共有3.5億工人,在改革開放後,卻不屬於「先讓一部份人富起來」的那一部份人。這幾年中國貧富差距加大,各地抗爭不斷,中國工人的處境,已到了火山邊緣,隨時可能爆發。

China at present has a total of 350 million labourers. Following the opening up and reform policy, they didn't get to take part in the ‘let a few get rich first’ plan. These last few years, the gap between rich and poor in China is widening, there are non-stop clashes happening everywhere. The flow that is Chinese labourers has already reached the brim of the volcano and might erupt at any time.

我們希望兩岸三地的工人,能由這種一點一滴的互動與瞭解,進行更緊密的合作,中國工人網在台灣落地,只是兩岸工人一起瞭解真正的敵人在哪裡的開始……

We hope that workers in all three places on both sides of the strait, with increased interaction and understanding, can come to a closer cooperation. Chinese Worker Web, in touching base with Taiwan, is just the beginning of workers on both sides of the strait realizing together who the real enemy is…

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