Muzzle the Chatterbox or Put a Patch on His Mouth

by Tienchi Martin-Liao    /  October 9, 2013  / No comments

In the newest chapter of China’s internet crackdowns, a 16 year-old boy is detained.

Yang Hui

On the left, Yang Hui flashes a victory sign after his release from detention in Zhangjiachuan Hui Autonomous County, Gansu province on Sept. 23, 2013. On the right, his father Yang Niuhu (C) picks him up from the detention center with lawyers Wang Shihua (R) and You Feizhu (L). Photo: Sina Weibo via RFA

An absurd law in China has hit its first victim. A 16-year-old boy, Yang Hui, in Zhangjiachuan county, Gansu Province, has been put under criminal detention for posting news online and expressing his suspicions about a potential murder in his neighborhood. In this case, a man had dropped from the roof of a building and died on September 12. The police conducted a minimal investigation, and instead decided to beat the dead man’s family members who rushed to the scene. The family members were then detained, despite the protestation of the surrounding crowd. Yang criticized the police’s behavior on his blog and exposed more news a day later, which showed that the place where the incident happened, a KTV-shop, is owned by the vice president of the local court.

  1. Blind Chess, a column by Tienchi Martin-Liao
  2. During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison till 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
  3. Tienchi Martin-Liao
  4. Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

The police accused Yang of “spreading rumor online,” and his “rumor” has now been forwarded over 500 times. According to the newest internet law, Yang could be charged with “inciting trouble” (xunxing zishi) and disturbing the social order. Though this is the first known case, now that this ridiculous fuss has a legal foundation it will certainly not be the last.

On September 9, the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate made a joint “interpretation on application of criminal law in terms of the use of information networks.” According to Paragraph 5: One who uses the information network to abuse or threaten others, or in severe cases, disturbs the social order, will be charged and punished for inciting trouble in accordance with the Criminal Law, Paragraph 293, Rule 1. Paragraph 2 reads: When the defaming information has been hit 5000 times or forwarded 500 times, it will be counted as a severe case.

Thus, with this silver bullet, the police arrested Yang the high school student. Yet, according to the Law on Protection of Minors in China, people under 18 count as a minor, and the life and health of a minor are to be protected. Even his or her honor and dignity should not be offended. Now we have a situation where one law overrides another, even under the condition that Yang’s writing is provocative and inciting.

Let’s see the chronology of the Zhangjiachuan incident:
9.12. A man falls from a building and dies.
9.14. During the day, there is a mass protest on the street. People are furious about the police’s behavior (beating the dead man’s family members, no decent investigation into the likely murder case).
In the evening, around 19:19 Yang Hui posts on his blog that the case is fishy and that the police did not do their duty properly.
9.17. Yang is taken away from his classroom by police.
9.23. Yang is released from detention.

The official blog of the Zhangjiachuan police reads: Yang “incited the people to demonstration, severely hindering the social order.” Yet, everyone knows the mass protest happened before Yang’s posting. These two things have no connection with each other at all.

The boy was detained for seven days. During this period, China’s netizens were extremely angry. Someone posted “Maybe our government should distribute a mouth patch to each citizen” and received lots of applause.

The netizens’ wrath was like a snowball rolling over the bureaucratic apparatus. Public pressure not only forced the authority to release Yang Hui, it also raised awareness about the controlling committee in Zhangjiachuan and resulted in an investigation into both the party secretary and the county head’s economic records. In addition, the protestation caused the head of the local security bureau to lose his job. People following the incident nick-named these pleasing offshoots the butterfly effect.

Before the internet law was announced the government enacted the “internet clean-up” campaign. Since it started over 500 people have been arrested. Among them were famous cases of the so-called big V (the name given to influential internet composers, whose blogs attract millions of followers; V means VIP or verification). Included in this group are Charles Xue, with his recent charges of solicitation of prostitutes, and investor Wang Gongquan’s charge of “disturbing the public order.” Of course, not every big V is a hero or Robin Hood, but whether nobleman or thug, matron or prostitute, everyone should have freedom of expression. However, for the authority, the “leek-cutting” rule is the only thing that counts. Whoever crosses the limit of the party’s tolerance will be cut down. As a result, the confrontation between the people and power will continue. It claims many victims, yet behind each victim, there is also a gain.

About the Author

Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

View all articles by Tienchi Martin-Liao

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