The last week has been a troubling one for observers of Internet censorship in China, and things just got worse as several bloggers and activists had their Sina Weibo accounts shut down over the past few days, the Washington Post reports.
The account closures come one week after the Chinese government passed a law requiring people to use their real names when signing up for Internet and phone services, a sign that the Communist Party intends to tighten its grip even further on China’s netizens (who currently make up the world’s largest group of Web users), and just three days after Chris Buckley, a New York Times reporter, and his family were forced to leave China after they weren’t issued a new visa by the end of 2012. Though the Chinese Foreign Ministry says that Buckley’s application is still under consideration, many observers view the delay as retaliation by the Chinese government for an October report in the New York Times about the hidden family wealth of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
The people who had their Weibo accounts disabled recently include journalists Shi Feike, an investigative reporter whose coverage of the abuse of power in Chongqing led to the arrest of disgraced former official Bo Xilai, and Cheng Yizhong, founder and former chief editor of the Southern Metropolis Daily. Also blocked were the accounts of Sichuan blogger and activist Ran Yunfei and Xiao Han, an associate professor at the China University of Political Science and Law.
Ran told the Washington Post that he had received no advance notice from Sina Weibo or any explanation of why his account was shuttered, though he had recently “posted some messages satirizing the so-called new governance” of Xi Jinping, general secretary of Communist Party and prime minister-designate Li Keqiang. The Sina Weibo account of cartoonist Kuang Biao, whose pieces satirized Communist Party policy and the “well-documented misbehavior of some Communist Party officials,” was closed by 7pm Friday, according to the Washington Post.
The Xi administration has plenty of reason to be wary of the Internet, as “Chinese citizens were treated this year to an unaccustomed number of hard-hitting exposes and investigations detailing the private lives and corrupt financial dealings of the most senior Communist Party officials and their family members,” the Washington Post said in an earlier article. Notable examples include the numerous scandals surrounding deposed former Politburo member Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kailai, who was convicted of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.
Though Sina Weibo, which has more than 400 million members, was slow in rolling out real-name registration after being instructed to by the Chinese government a year ago and stands to lose plenty from the new law if traffic is reduced, Tech In Asia’s Steven Millward notes that the microblogging platform has certainly played its own part in online censorship by blocking certain searches, not indexing other searches to push down their visibility, asking Weibo users to report other posters for spreading “rumors,” and delaying mentions of “sensitive” words by a week.
We have emailed Sina Weibo for comment and will update this post if they respond.