As the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party prepares to unveil the names of the country’s new leaders, the censorship surrounding the congress has shown the level for contempt for freedom of information in China.
“Although Hu Jintao said at the start of the congress that China would ‘never copy a Western political system,’ we urge the international community and the European Union in particular to promote freedom of information in China because it is not the prerogative of any western political system, it is a fundamental freedom recognized by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“We therefore call on the European Union, the recent winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, to emphasize its commitment to human rights in general and freedom of information in particular to China’s new leaders.”
Reporters Without Borders urges Xi Jinping, who everyone expects to be the next paramount leader, to embark on far-reaching political reforms. The censorship that has surrounded the 18th Congress has so far given little hope of a China that will respect media freedom. (See 8 November 2012 press release and the news feed)
The censorship began with an intensified crackdown on dissidents and human rights activists, in many cases involving physical restraint. They were banned from going to Shanghai and Beijing and were sent to other cities. Many were summoned for questioning. The cyber-dissident Hu Jia was placed under police surveillance and was forbidden to give interviews to foreign media.
The authorities also reinforced their control of the Internet. Many Weibo accounts were closed. Google and Gmail were rendered inaccessible. And the Weibo search engine prevented searches for the 18th Congress. Not only were the words “18th Congress”(十八大 / shibada) censored but also the homonyms that began being used in a bid to thwart the censors.
As Reporters Without Borders feared, the authorities did everything possible to prevent information circulating in Tibet. The impossibility of communicating with this region or disseminating information about it has reached unprecedented levels as the Chinese authorities step up efforts to suppress reports about the Tibetan people’s demands and the 10 or so cases of self-immolation during the congress.
With one of the world’s most sophisticated system’s of online censorship and surveillance, China is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet” and is ranked 174th out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. A total of 30 journalists and 69 netizens are currently imprisoned in China.