Bo Xilai

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1. Beyond censors' reach, free expression thrives, to a point

By Sophie Beach

On March 24, 2012, investigative journalist Yang Haipeng posted on his Sina Weibo microblog a story he had heard that alleged a link between Neil Heywood, an English businessman who had been found dead in a Chongqing hotel, and Bo Xilai, the powerful Chongqing Communist Party chief. His post is widely recognized as the first significant public mention of a connection between the two men and it spread like wildfire online before being deleted the next day. A month later, Yang’s Sina Weibo account, which had 247,000 followers, was shut down.

3. Made in China: Models for media and censorship

By Danny O’Brien and Madeline Earp

As the founding editor, in 2005, of the Liberian online investigative news site FrontPage Africa, Rodney Sieh has fought off lawsuits, imprisonment, and death threats. In the face of such pressures, he has still managed to expand the website into one of Liberia’s best-selling daily newspapers, making him a leading figure in both new and traditional news media in the country. It’s not surprising then, that he was one of 17 prominent African journalists and publishers invited by the Chinese government to a three-week “News and Publishing Seminar in Developing Countries” last August in Beijing.

Andy Wong/AP

Chinese censors worked overtime to squelch reports of the downfall of former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai and the arrest of his wife on murder charges. But savvy journalists and Internet users stayed with the story and soon it commanded international headlines. Click through the timeline to see how a tightly censored story still made news in China.

A spectator is surrounded by journalists Thursday after exiting the Hefei City Intermediate People's Court where the trial of Gu Kailai for murder takes place. (AP/Eugene Hoshiko)

We cover all kinds of censorship here at CPJ. Recently we documented the cunning application of scissors to prevent readers from accessing China-related articles in hard copy magazines. But it's been a while since we've had chance to write about one favored implement of information control in China: the umbrella. 

Several Internet users in China are now unable to access Weibo, the popular microblog platform. (Reuters)

Pity those of us who monitor the ups and downs of China's popular microblog platform, Sina Weibo. For every story its users spread in defiance of local censorship, there follows a clampdown. Whether it's the latest strike against rumors, or real name registration, or newly banned keywords, there's always another restriction in the works as the service struggles to keep a lid on sensitive conversations without driving away its user base. "China tightens grip on social media," we might report, as the Financial Times did in April. And last October. (The U.K.-based newspaper also noted China's grip tightening on lawyers in March.) It's not that these headlines are misleading. They simply show how difficult it is to illustrate the grip that always tightens, but never quite suffocates.

Boxun News website was attacked after reporting on the scandal involving Bo Xilai. (AFP/Frederic J. Brown)

New York, April 25, 2012--The U.S.-based, Chinese-language news website Boxun has come under two crippling denial-of-service attacks in the past week as the outlet sought to report on the unfolding murder and corruption scandal involving former senior Communist Party leader Bo Xilai. The attacks forced Boxun to change its hosting company twice, the site's founder and editor Watson Meng told the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Meng, who spoke to CPJ from his home in North Carolina, said he had not been able to trace the source of the denial-of-service attacks but believed they were in reprisal for Boxun's reporting on Bo Xilai and his ally Zhou Yongkang, the Communist Party's security chief, whose political fate has also been the subject of speculation this month. The first attack, on Friday, was so severe that it not only threatened Boxun but its entire hosting service, name.com. Denial-of-service attacks overload host servers with external communications requests, thus preventing websites from functioning. 

New York, April 13, 2012--Chinese authorities should halt their censorship of Web content in the aftermath of senior politician Bo Xilai's dismissal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Internet officials in China have deleted at least 210,000 online posts and shut down as many as 42 websites since mid-March for allegedly spreading rumors, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported on Thursday.

(AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

Chongqing hotpot = King of the Southwest = King Who Pacifies the West = Minister of Yu = Tomato

What do these words have in common? They are all coded references to Bo Xilai, the disgraced former Communist Party leader in southwestern Chongqing, and they were all censored in China on Tuesday, according to the Berkeley-based China Digital Times website. Bo was removed from his post in March, and state media reported Wednesday he had been suspended from the governing Politburo and Party Central Committee. Propaganda officials censored speculation about Bo's downfall and its implications for political stability, so Internet users adopted terms like the ones above to avoid triggering keyword filters. Now these, too, have been blacklisted, according to China Digital Times. Will this senseless battle to hide information ever end?

Authorities have suspended the comments feature on the Chinese microblog site Weibo, seen here, as a punishment for 'allowing rumors to spread.' (AFP/Mark Ralston)

New York, April 2, 2012--The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by Chinese authorities' recent clampdown on the Internet after rumors circulated about politician Bo Xilai's dismissal from the Communist Party leadership in Chongqing. In recent days, authorities have shut down several microblog sites and detained and targeted Internet users.

Reports are now emerging that a journalist was jailed in 2010 for criticizing the policies of Bo Xilai, above. (AFP)

New York, March 30, 2012--Authorities in Chongqing must clarify the status of a journalist who reports say was secretly sentenced to prison in 2010 for criticizing a government official in a personal blog, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ has not been able to independently confirm the journalist's jail sentence or his whereabouts.

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