What do former Taiwan premier Frank Hsieh Chang-Ting, former Google president Kai-Fu Lee, and human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang have in common?
Within the last three weeks, each of them has seen his Sina Weibo account suspended. In Lee’s case, he was slapped with a three-day ban. In Hsieh’s case, his account was completely trashed. And Pu? He can’t do anything on any Chinese microblog — not Sina’s, Tencent’s, or Sohu’s.
What’s going on here? SCMP tries to get to the bottom of it. First, Pu:
In his posts, which were widely commented on and reposted, Pu said (recently retired security tsar) Zhou (Yongkang) had “wrecked a country, ruined the people”. The posts were soon deleted.
That happened on February 8, on an unspecified account. He tried to open a Sina Weibo account the next day, which lasted four days before being deleted. On February 14, he tried again, and this time his account survived all of four hours.
Pu said the suspension of his microblogs might have been due to his criticism of Zhou. In his post, Pu said too many human tragedies had been directly attributed to Zhou’s policies and his stability-maintenance apparatus. “Stability maintenance is the worst evil for instability in China,” he wrote.
We’ll repeat something we’ve said before: in China, you can talk about anything as long as you don’t offend the wrong people or speak too loudly about the truth.
In former Taiwan premier Hsieh’s case, his account, a mere 24 hours after verification, was deleted on February 20. Perhaps a supervisor recognized his name and realized Hsieh was trouble. SCMP again:
“It must have been the superiors of Sina, such as propaganda authorities, who issued the order [to delete Hsieh’s account],” said two Beijing-based senior online editors, who asked that their names not be used.
They said that it was impossible for Sina to make Hsieh a VIP user without approval from the Taiwan Affairs Office.
“But if the state-level propaganda department does not like Hsieh’s posts, they can ask Sina to delete his account,” they added.
Most confusing of all is the suspension of China Google’s ex-president, Lee. On February 17 he tweeted: “I am silenced on Sina and Tencent [Weibos] for three days, so everyone can find me here.”
Netizens have, as you might expect, mostly rallied to these three men’s causes. Freedom of speech may be a progressive, even radical idea, but many here still aspire for it.
They’re bound to be disappointed.
“Freedom of speech is not about the freedom to criticise powerful officials, but about whether you will lose this freedom after having criticised them,” Hsieh explained in a post uploaded on Wednesday.
We should amend Hsieh’s statement for China. It’s not about whether you will lose this freedom, but how long it’ll take. Not very long.