China detains, censors bloggers on ‘Jasmine Revolution’

New York, February 25, 2011–China’s censors tightened Internet controls and security officials harassed and detained writers and activists in the wake of an online appeal for a “Jasmine Revolution” in China, according to international human rights groups and news reports. The apparent crackdown came in advance of two top legislative meetings, the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, scheduled for March.

Censors blocked the word “jasmine” after overseas dissident-run news website Boxun and Chinese Twitter users broadcast calls on February 19 to mobilize street protests modeled on recent unrest in the Middle East, according to international news reports. (Twitter is generally blocked in China but accessible to users of proxy networks based overseas.) Only a handful of protesters appeared, although calls continued for government protests characterized as “strolls” to continue every Sunday around China, according to The Associated Press.

“Reports that Chinese police are detaining and harassing bloggers and activists are deeply concerning,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “China must allow information on political dissension to circulate freely.”

Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders said Ran Yunfei, a Sichuan-based political writer and blogger, was taken by police on February 20 and formally detained on suspicion of “subversion of state power” on February 24, according to an official notice sent to his wife. Other overseas groups said police detained Ran on February 20. CPJ could not independently confirm the nature of the charges. Hong Kong University-based China Media Project reported Thursday that Ran had been charged with the less serious “inciting subversion of state power,” citing local online reports. 

Conflicting information was available about other detentions, which included lawyers and democracy activists, according to the groups and international news reports. At least two others were detained after transmitting information about the Jasmine Revolution online, according to overseas rights groups:

  • Chinese Human Rights Defenders said police in Harbin detained Liang Haiyi on February 19 and formally arrested her on suspicion of “subversion of state power” on February 21. The Independent Chinese PEN Center reported her name as Jiang Haiyi and identified her as a “netizen” or Internet user. The center said she was suspected of “inciting subversion.” “She only reposted someone else’s writings on the Chinese Internet,” a lawyer familiar with the case told AP.
  • The Independent Chinese PEN Center and the New York-based Human Rights in China said Jiangsu police detained Hua Chunhui on February 21 on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.” Chinese Human Rights Defenders said Hua was an insurance manager who had transmitted details of the Jasmine Revolution using his Twitter account.

Other writers were harassed and reported heavy surveillance. Shanghai-based writer and activist Feng Zhenghu said police were guarding his house and turning back visitors saying, “Today is a sensitive day,” in a Tuesday update to his Twitter account. Feng has been harassed in the past for publishing a bulletin on human rights abuses.

Business networking platform LinkedIn said it had been blocked in parts of China after a user discussed the jasmine revolution in a forum, according to the BBC. Internet censorship traditionally tightens before annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference are held in Beijing, according to CPJ research, as well as during sensitive political unrest. 

The severity of the crackdown contrasted with the largely irreverent tone of the online debate. “The thing about this ‘Jasmine Revolution’ performance art, taking it seriously was bound to fail. But authorities did,” one Twitter post said, according to a Global Voices Online translation. “This weekend’s banned word list contains things like ‘plum blossom revolution,’ ‘peony revolution,’ ‘azalea revolution,’ ‘sunflower seed coup,'” another read. Chinese bloggers often adopt informal code words to refer to banned content, according to CPJ research.