[UPDATES 10/11/10: Liu’s wife visited him in prison yesterday, and was placed under house arrest upon leaving. Her ties to the outside world have been severed and she can only leave her home in a police car. Meanwhile, authorities have arrested people celebrating Liu’s award. China-based bloggers, like Han Han, have also had their sites censored. (Han Han’s post about Liu for 10/8/10 is now blank.]
JISHOU, HUNAN — By now, you have probably heard that Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident, has won the Nobel Peace Prize. But if you were in China, you would hardly know it.
Government censors blacked out CNN cable TV reports, like the one below. The China Daily, the nation’s English-language, government-backed newspaper and website, had nothing about the award this evening.
Searching for his name in Chinese characters (刘晓波) using Google or Yahoo just gave me a generic “server not found” message. However, if I used the pinyin version of his name, I had no problem finding and reading news reports about him. I assume that breech will be closed soon, since searching for his name on Wikipedia gave me a similar “server not found” message.
Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence in Liaoning province, after he was convicted in 2009 of subversion of state power. He was an advisor to student protesters in the 1989 Tian’anmen Square demonstrations, and a co-author of Charter 08, which calls for more democracy in China. (See the link under Pages at left on this blog, if you want to read the Charter.)
Needless to say, giving the prize to Liu did not please the Chinese government one iota, since it calls attention to Liu’s imprisonment and China’s less-than-stellar track record on human rights. Despite its “opening up” in the 1970s to the outside, the Communist Party of China (CPC) prefers to keep the population in the dark about dissidents like Liu. The CPC is all about a “harmonious society” here. As Chinese media observers have noted, news reports in China rarely mention anything suggesting the CPC makes any errors, or that anyone might object to official CPC actions.
Everything’s just peachy here, you know.
English speakers have an advantage over most Chinese. So far, access to major international news sites like BBC and CNN is not blocked. Since most Chinese still don’t know English very well, however, they are unlikely to go poking around The New York Times for news of China.
And those that seek information on Chinese websites will either find nothing, or the site blocked.
China is not alone in this regard, of course. Iran has a tight grip on its media and Internet pipelines, as well. And the United Arab Emirates threatened to ban Research in Motion’s Blackberry services entirely if RiM didn’t allow UAE internal security agencies access to customer’s communications.
And, lest you think the USA is above all this snooping, the Obama administration wants telecommunications and Internet providers to provide government security agencies “backdoor” access to check on what customers are talking, texting or typing about.
I am not suggesting that the US government will lock people like China has Liu, but at the same time, there is no compelling reason to let government agents have easier access to our private communications than what they already have. And there is no compelling reason to control how and why Internet users access the ‘Net. (I am speaking out Net Neutrality here, folks.)