Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Busting China's Bloggers

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Busting China's Bloggers

Article excerpt

The vast state censorship apparatus works hard to keep microbloggers down.

A frequent topic of conversation among my friends here has been: Who will be arrested next?

Some of us met recently for dinner and started a list of potential candidates. We included outspoken scholars, writers and lawyers who have discussed democracy and freedom, criticized the government and spoken out for the disadvantaged.

Some of my dinner companions nominated themselves for the list. We agreed that the social critic Xiao Shu (the pen name of Chen Min) and Guo Yushan, a friend of the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng (now in the United States), should top the list. I'm right behind them.

Almost of all of us are active microbloggers. Some of us qualify as Big V, the widely used label for influential bloggers with millions of followers. (V stands for "verified account.") It is our online activism that makes us prime targets of the government.

In August, the authorities launched the most severe round yet in their "campaign against cybercrime." Ostensibly to curtail online "rumors," they are rounding up and jailing outspoken netizens across the country. Judging from official media accounts and police reports, the number of arrests is in the hundreds, and many of us believe it may be in the thousands.

Charles Xue, a government critic and a Big V blogger with 12 million followers, who writes under the name Xue Manzi, was arrested as an early high-profile example. He was detained in August for allegedly hiring prostitutes, but the state-run news agency, Xinhua, made clear the true reason: "This has sounded a warning bell about the law to all Big V's on the Internet." The most infamous case was the arrest of a 16-year-old boy in Gansu Province. In early September, he posted two short messages commenting on the police's handling of a mysterious death. His message included the phrase: "All officials shield one another." He was arrested a few days later.

Meanwhile, the state media have published a steady flow of articles warning users of Weibo, the word for microblog, to tone down their commentaries. An Aug. 24 editorial on Xinhua's Web site said that popular bloggers who "poison the online environment" should be "dealt with like rats scurrying across the street that everyone wants to kill."

It's easy to see why the government feels threatened. The most popular microblogging service, Sina's Weibo, has more than 500 million registered members and 54 million daily users, and has become the most important space for citizens to participate in public life -- and expose government lies. Microbloggers dare to question the legitimacy of the one-party state. They expose corruption. They shame criminals.

And Big V bloggers don't just express opinions; we act as information hubs. When we discuss issues online, people take notice. …

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