On 15 November, a woman in China was sentenced to one year of ‘re-education through labour’ for sending a single tweet. Chen Jianping (@wangyi09, known as Wang Yi on twitter), the fiancée of human rights activist Hua Chunhui (@wxhch), was accused of disrupting social order for re-tweeting a satirical suggestion by her fiancé last month that anti-Japanese protesters should attack the Japanese Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. She added five words in Chinese, ‘angry youth, charge!’ Hua was also arrested but was released after five days.
According to Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director, “Sentencing someone to a year in a labour camp, without trial, for simply repeating another person’s clearly satirical observation on Twitter demonstrates the level of China’s repression of online expression.”
Jingpin Blog, describing the case as the first Twitter inquisition in China, explores what Chen’s tweet means in the context of ‘social order’ and China’s repressive political environment:
Is this a case of injustice? This depends on how we understand ‘disrupting social order.’ But such kind of literary inquisition is not the first in the world. In January this year, a British man joked on Twitter that he is going to blow up the Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster. He was arrested, fired from his job and banned from entering the airport. This is all because of just one tweet. We can see that inappropriate languages on Twitter could land you an arrest, whether you are in or out of China.
Back to Chen’s case. Without commenting on whether the decision is fair or not, and without considering whether Chen really meant it (I believe it is just a joke), the content of her tweet is very dangerous. The act of attacking the pavilion is dangerous. Now you are stimulating others to do so, which is even more dangerous. That’s why Chen’s punishment is heavier than Hua’s. Think about this. If you do not support the [Chinese Communist Party], the party will just ignore you because you are only an insignificant individual. But if you encourage other people to oppose the party, then the party will give you troubles. This is to act as a warning to others. Of course, this is not to say that encouraging other people to do something is a bad thing. It depends on who take the lead, and for what purposes. Take Aung San Suu Kyi, who motivates the whole country to struggle for freedom. It is a heroic act, although it brings her years of arrest.
On Twitter, many Chinese users are voicing their support for Wang Yi.
Here are a few tweets from Hua Chunhui (@wxhch) over the past few days:
It’s late at night, but I cannot sleep. I don’t know if Wang Yi has gone to sleep or not. I don’t know how she passed these few days in the labour camp, whether she is still on hunger strike, whether she was subject to inhumane behavior, what is her health condition. I don’t know. Yesterday morning I spoke to her sister. We have to send her necessities ASAP, and to visit her often. I will fight for our legal rights to visit her.
It seems the political atmosphere in 2010 is in preparation for 2012. Wang Yi lost a year of freedom just because of five words. Wuhan scholar Li Tie also got arrested on the charge of ‘inciting subversion of state power.’ Living in such kind of news everyday makes one feel nervous and difficult to breathe!
This morning, while travelling on a public bus in Zhang Yuan, I was on a phone interview with the Associated Press. After the phone call, a passenger asked me what I was talking about. I then briefly introduced Wang Yi’s case to the passenger, who was very surprised and said it is difficult to believe! Twitterers nearby, please use whatever means to tell the truth to everyone.
Here are some more tweets from online activists:
The case of Wang Yi (Chen Jianping) is by no means a simple, individual case. It is a warning sign – under the flag of social stability, the authority may do the same to all rights defense activities. In face of their crazy revenge, we need to think of our responses.
@wangzhongxia: 刘晓波224个字失去11年。字均18天。RT @mozhixu: 王译 @wangyi09应该可以去申请吉尼斯纪录，5个字失去一年自由，平均一个字要失去72天自由，应该是世界纪录了
Liu Xiaobo lost 11 years for 224 words. 18 days for one word. RT @mozhixu: Wang Yi can apply for the Guinness World Records. Lose 1 year for five words. On average 72 days for one word. This is a world record.
Detaining Wang Yi is the most direct way of stamping on the rights and threatening the survival of Chinese citizens who defy censorship to seek and speak the truth. Supporting Chen Jianping has a very special meaning.
Brother Hua, I don’t know what you did in the past. But you have shown all your passions for Wang Yi. I believe Wang Yi is the luckiest lady on Twitter. Even though there are tremendous amount of pains, you have to tell those state security police that they don’t even deserve to be envious.
Meanwhile, twitter CEO Dick Costolo has voiced his criticism on the Chinese government in his Twitter profile:
@dickc: Dear Chinese Government, year-long detentions for sending a sarcastic tweet are neither the way forward nor the future of your great people.
which was being translated into Chinese and retweeted by Chinese users, attracting various responses:
Twitter CEO said Wang Yi got ‘year-long detentions for sending a sarcastic tweet.’ He may not know that this ‘detention’ was neither a judgment from court nor the procuracy. It is just a decision by the local police. In China, this ‘detention’ can circumvent legal procedures and deprive of any suspect’s freedom from 1 to 4 years. This is called ‘re-education through labour.’
A great support! Twitter CEO is speaking! Support Wang Yi!