In China, don’t question the heroes.
At least seven people in the past week have been threatened, detained or arrested after suspicion of government accounts of the deaths of Chinese soldiers in last year’s clash with Indian troops. Three of them are being held for seven to 15 days. The remaining four people faced criminal charges, including a man living outside of China.
“The Internet is not a place without law,” the police said in their case. “Blasphemy against heroes and martyrs will not be tolerated.”
Their penalty may go unnoticed if it is not an online database of speech crimes in China. A simple Google spreadsheet open to all to see, it lists almost 2,000 times people have been punished by the government for what they say online and offline.
The list – direct links to publicly issued verdicts, police notices and official news reports for the past eight years – is still incomplete. Most of the punishment takes place behind closed doors.
However, this list paints a bleak picture of a government punishing its citizens for a bit of criticism. It shows how random and cruel the Chinese legal system can be when it comes to punishing its citizens for what they say, even though the right to free speech is inscribed in the Chinese Constitution.
The list describes dissidents who are sentenced to long-term prison sentences for attacking the government. It is about petitioners, who directly complain to the government about wrongdoing to them, locked up for making too much noise. It included almost 600 people being punished for what they said about Covid-19, and too many others cursing at the police, often after receiving a parking ticket.
The person behind the list is a little bit of a mystery. In an interview, he described himself as a young man surnamed Wang. Of course, if the government finds out more about him, he will probably go to jail.
Anh Vuong said he decided to make a list after reading about people punished for insulting the country during the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, in October 2019. Although he He was young, but he told me he remembered more freedom of speech before Xi Jinping became the top leader of the Communist Party in late 2012.
“I know there are speech crimes in China, but I never thought it would be that bad,” Wang posted in August. on his Twitter accountwhere he writes in both English and Chinese. He wrote that he became depressed after reading more than 1,000 sentences.
“The boss is watching you,” he said Written. “I tried to look for Big Brother’s eyes and ended up finding them everywhere.”
The list, bluntly titled “An inventory of speech crimes in China in recent years,” details what happened to those questioning the North’s official account. Kinh about the June clash between Chinese and Indian forces at their disputed border in the Himalayas. The Indian government later said 20 of its soldiers had been killed. Last week, the Chinese government finally said four of its soldiers had been killed.
State media in China call them heroes, but some have wondered. One person, a former journalist, asked if many people died, a question of interest both at home and abroad. According to the notice linked to the spreadsheet, the former journalist was charged with arguing and harassing – a common charge by the government against those who spoke – and faced a five-year prison sentence.
Reading the list, it is clear how well Xi and his government have tamed the Chinese Internet. People used to think that the Internet was out of control, even in China. But Xi has long viewed the internet as both a threat to contain and a tool to guide public opinion.
“The internet is the biggest variant we face,” he said in a 2018 speech. “Whether we can win the internet war will have a direct impact on security. national politics ”.
The free-leaning media and voices were among the first to be silent. Then the internet platforms themselves – China’s versions of Twitter and YouTube, among others – were punished for what they allowed.
Now, Chinese Internet companies brag about the ability to control their content. Nationalist online users report speech they deem offensive. Of the seven people charged with insulting heroes and martyrs, six were reported by other users, according to police reports. In some ways, China’s internet policy.
The Chinese police, who are disliked by many for their generous authority to lock people indefinitely, are major beneficiaries. According to the spreadsheet, people were detained for calling the police “dogs”, “bandits” and “bastards”. Most were locked up for only a few days, but one man stayed Liaoning Province was sentenced to 10 months in prison for writing 5 offensive posts on his WeChat timeline.
Complainants are among the most disadvantaged. In one case on the spreadsheet, a woman in Sichuan province whose son suddenly died at school and her husband committed suicide was sentenced to three years in prison for spreading false information. The judgment explicitly lists the titles of the 10 articles she posted and the page views they obtained. The most popular page has 1,615 views, while at least 18.
Perhaps the saddest entries are those about who are punished for what they have said about the Covid-19 pandemic. Topping the list is Dr. Li Wenliang, who was reprimanded on January 1, 2020, along with seven others for trying to warn the country about the coronavirus. He died in early February of last year from the virus and is now remembered as the whistleblower trying to warn the world of a coronavirus outbreak. But the spreadsheet lists 587 other cases.
Even cheesy skits by ambitious online influencers can be viewed as insulting. Two men in Shaanxi Province, Northwest, streamed the funeral they held for a sheep. In the video, a man cries over a photo of the sheep while the other digs a grave. They were detained for 10 days for violating traditional customs and practices.
But the spreadsheet also highlights inspirational instances in which people speak out to challenge power.
In 2018, a 19-year-old man in the northwestern city of Yinchuan decided to experiment with a law banning interrogation and criticism of heroes and martyrs. He posted on Weibo that two famous martyrs have died meaningless deaths and he wanted to see if he was arrested, showing the lack of free speech in China. He was detained for 10 days and fined 70 dollars.
One man, Feng Zhouguan, criticized Mr. Xi and was charged by the local police in Xiamen City. He was detained for five days but appealed after his release, arguing police improperly intervened in a potential smear case between the two individuals. The local police, he argued, “are not the national leader’s military bodyguard or the militia family.” The court upheld the verdict.
However, many people pay a higher price.
Huang Genbao, 45, is a senior engineer at a state-owned company in Xuzhou City, the eastern United States. Two years ago, he was arrested and sentenced to 16 months in prison for insulting the leader of the country and damaging the nation’s image on platforms like Twitter. He shares a cell with more than 20 people and has to follow a strict routine, including restroom breaks. He and his wife lost their jobs, now he takes care of the family.
“My life in prison reminds me of my book” 1984, “he said in an interview. “Many experiences are probably worse than the conspiracies in the book.”