Leiden Law Blog

Censorship in China at its height because of social media?

Censorship in China at its height because of social media?

Over the years China made the news many times because of the fact that the Communist Party, the Chinese government, censors citizens through the internet. It is known to block websites about democracy, human rights, religion and international law - this is called 'The Great Firewall'. Also, the government uses 'keyword blocking so you can't post texts that contain a banned word or phrase.

China’s new internet law

In May this year, the Dutch news network NOS published a news item about Chinese bloggers who were deleted or banned from various types of social media. According to many human right organisations such as Amnesty International and NOS China correspondent Floris Harm, the Chinese government wants to ban the online discussion on corruption, pollution and human rights. Murong Xuecun is a Chinese blogger whose Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter) account was deleted and who was given the ‘V’ status, which means that you are banned from all social media. He published a lot of critical tweets and blogs and had over 8 million followers. Murong claims that 'if a person higher up doesn't like you, they can erase your account'. This proves a certain haphazardness by the Chinese Communist Party.

In the first week of September 2013 the Chinese government decided to enact a new law. People who keep spreading 'rumours and gossip' over the internet risk a three-year sentence. When online publications are considered to be 'rumours and gossip' is up to the authorities to decide. They have already arrested a couple of popular Chinese social media users. Why does the government of China try to silence these internet bloggers and Tweeters? 

The government’s objectives

King, Pan and Roberts explain this in their article in the American Political Science Review in May 2013. They have two theories about the goals of the government to prevent these kinds of public protests. The first is the 'state critique' theory, which states that the government wants to eliminate all the negative messages and predominate them with positive publicity. So they cut out individuals who are not pro government and stimulate those who express themselves more in favour of the state. The second one is the 'collective action potential' theory. In this theory the objective is not to go for the individual but more for the group of people who use social media and are a threat to the government because they have the potential to generate collective action. They try to dismantle the group by putting aside important social media figures. The latter is the case in China where the Communist Party fears the growth of an online cohesive group of critical people.

In other words, the new law in China is supposed to be for the 'security' of the existence of the state.

Human Rights

This law does not seem legitimate. On the one hand because of the violations of human rights and on the other hand because of the way this law is enforced. Both of these matters are in contradiction with one of the main values of Criminal Law, as stated by the legal scholars Barbara Hudson and Synnove Ugelvik: the individual legal protection and civil liberties.

The Chinese government is guilty of violating human rights. Firstly, silencing people who are criticising the way a state is ruled is a violation of the freedom of speech, as stated by Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHD). This declaration was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, after the Second World War. It was signed to establish human rights and freedom. Even China adopted the UDHD but that doesn't stop the government from disregarding these rights. Article 2 is not the only one that is ignored; they also violate the right to liberty and security of a person, article 3 of the UDHD.

Besides that, the government also violates article 12 of the UDHD: 'No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks'. The fact that the government can delete your social media accounts is one thing, the fact that there is a great arbitrariness in the process is even worse. The Chinese law states that people should not spread rumours and gossip but, as said before, the definition of this is very vague. In this way, the government can fit anything they want into this category.

Criminal procedure law

This law does not only contravene human rights, but also criminal procedure law. It contradicts a couple of articles from the UDHD including articles 9 and 10 on fair arrest, detention and trial. According to a briefing from Amnesty International (July 2013) on China's Criminal Procedure Law, China fails to protect certain rights of people who are arrested or on trial. For example, a lot of people still get tortured during interrogations and in prison and the right to remain silent is not protected. The police and public security bodies have a lot of power concerning oversight, monitoring and restraint allowing them to proceed without control. Also, the judiciary is not formed to be a just institution, it lacks a good reform. Without this there is no good base to implement human rights.

Finally, the law also contains a couple of very vague definitions of certain crimes. This includes 'endangering state security', 'inciting splittism' and 'inciting subversion of state of power'. A lot of 'crimes' are covered by these unclear statements including the use of social media for discussing and criticising the Chinese Communist Party. This is a severe degradation of the legality of the law. This means that the legal security in China is at a low point.

The Communist Party inconsistently confines citizens who use the internet out of fear of a voice of the people that is too strong to counter. So what will happen to Murong Xuecon if he continues to try to publish his opinions on the World Wide Web? Will his fate be the same as of those who have already been arrested? And what will happen to those people, will they get a fair trial? This is just another sad case of human rights violation in China, along with all the others.

2 Comments

Noah
Posted on October 30, 2014 at 21:19 by Noah

@unfoldway

On your second point: the writer indeed could have cited some sources, but the message stays the same and it wouldn’t have made the argument ‘academic’ at all. It is generally known that China is guilty of these crimes. Citing some sources would just create the perfect opportunity for ‘comment warriors’ like you to ask the next obvious question about the reliability of those sources mentioned.

unfoldway
Posted on October 14, 2013 at 10:55 by unfoldway

There are just two things the writer should pay more attention:
Firstly, from the perspective of international law, whether UDHD has binding legal force is not determined yet, while International Bill of Human Rights consisted of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and UDHD combining together is legally imperative. For the record, China (PRC) has not approved ICCPR yet.

Secondly, the writer mentioned that China fails to protect certain rights of people who are arrested or on trial and began to name examples, like, “a lot of people still get tortured during interrogations and in prison and the right to remain silent is not protected. The police and public security bodies have a lot of power concerning oversight, monitoring and restraint allowing them to proceed without control. Also, the judiciary is not formed to be a just institution, it lacks a good reform. Without this there is no good base to implement human rights”. The whole passage quoted is groundless and if I may say, a little judgmental. At least the writer could cite some sources or evidences of this passage, otherwise it is just another conventional verbal accusation levelled at China instead of a solid academic argument.

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