China Sends Mixed Signals On Censorship
from the make-up-your-mind dept
Last week we wrote about China's worrying new censorship approach, which threatens up to three years in prison for those spreading "false information" if their posts are viewed 5000 times, or forwarded 500 times. Improbable though that law is in its exactitude, it seems it has already been applied:
Yesterday afternoon, police in Zhangjiachuan County, Gansu province, detained a local teenager for "disrupting social order" when the teen's post on microblogging service Sina Weibo about a suspicious death went viral, reports the Beijing Times. The teen's remarks were the sorts of Weibo "tweets" that have provided a crucial source of information for others as they report on stories that the media, which are state-controlled, are late or unwilling to report on.
In other words, exactly the inconvenient information that the Chinese authorities want to stamp out with this new law. Although the 16-year-old involved has now been released after a week's detention, the article on Quartz quoted above notes that the approach has also been used against others for even trivial mistakes:
police forces around China have already used the law to charge people for simply getting the death toll of a car accident slightly off.
What makes this crack-down strange is that it contrasts with a move to open things up in other ways, as the South China Morning Post reports:
Beijing has made the landmark decision to lift a ban on internet access within the Shanghai Free-trade Zone to foreign websites considered politically sensitive by the Chinese government, including Facebook, Twitter and newspaper website The New York Times.
Here's the logic behind that move:
"In order to welcome foreign companies to invest and to let foreigners live and work happily in the free-trade zone, we must think about how we can make them feel like at home. If they can't get onto Facebook or read The New York Times, they may naturally wonder how special the free-trade zone is compared with the rest of China," said one of the government sources who declined to be named due to the highly political sensitive nature of the matter.
The Chinese authorities seem to think that allowing a little online freedom is a gamble worth taking on economic grounds if it's kept within "special" zones, but doing so only underlines the lack of it everywhere else in China.