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Attacks on free expression at a level not seen since Beijing games, says IFJ report

(IFJ/IFEX) - June 1, 2011 - In its capsule report, IFJ documents grave breaches of human rights occurring with increasing frequency and recommends urgent action be taken by international organisations to bring China's authorities to account.

"The Jasmine Effect: China's New Clampdown"

The scent of revolution drifting from the Middle East and North Africa has seen the Central Government of China begin a renewed attack on freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of association, of proportions not seen since the lead-up to the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.

In the months since the calls for "jasmine" revolution spread from Tunisia in December 2010, the rule of law in China has effectively been rendered irrelevant, with journalists, lawyers, human rights activists and students illegally incarcerated, harassed and intimidated. A tight net has been cast around information published by journalists or circulated online by citizens.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) considers that there are grave breaches of human rights occurring with increasing frequency and recommends urgent action be taken by international organisations to bring China's authorities to account.

The spread of popular uprisings, known as "jasmine" revolutions, in Tunisia and Egypt through to neighbouring countries in late 2010 and early 2011 received global attention, no less from China's authorities. Media in China barely reported the news of the overthrow of Egypt's regime that came with President Hosni Mubarak's resignation on February 11, with the exception of emphasising that the Central Government had evacuated Chinese nationals from the country for their safety.

However when a Chinese lawyer in Shanghai posted "celebration for Egypt" to her Twitter feed, she was quickly interrogated by a security officer in Shanghai on February 15. The hint of revolution reverberated through the nervous system of China's administration.

Sunday protest call brings rapid response

As "jasmine" sentiments drifted across to China in the days following the overthrow of the Mubarak regime of Egypt, China's Central Government moved quickly to silence any whiff of dissent. Hundreds of people across the country were interrogated and detained by security bureau officers without due process. On Saturday, February 19, anonymous online posts called for "Chinese jasmine revolution" protests to be held every Sunday, the first within 24 hours. These posts were quickly censored, and on February 19, when the website Boxun ( http://news.boxun.com/ ) uploaded similar information, it was shut down by hackers.

On the same day, the President of China, Hu Jintao, held a "seminar" for all key leaders of bureaus and departments of all provincial governments. Hu reminded all leaders to "enhance their social management skills" in order to ensure social stability. Among the eight points in his speech, he emphasised that online opinion must remain within the well-established framework of "supervision of public opinion", that is to control all negative or sensitive reports that might affect the Government's power. The February 19 speech was widely interpreted as instructions for all authorities to come to grips with the "virtual society" online.

Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee with oversight of public security, followed this call on February 20, saying that all Communist leaders should enhance their social management skills in order to protect the status of the Communist Ruling Party. Zhou also made comments clearly designed to coincide with the first protests that appeared in China, which had been flagged in the online calls for demonstrations. "Ensure all social disagreement and conflicts vanish when they are in sprout," Zhou said, according to reports.

The same day, numerous uniformed and plain-clothes law enforcement officers, regardless of their designated bureau or department, rushed into the protest areas to supervise the crowds. Many posed as pedestrians, students or street cleaners to take photos and collect information of protest participants and journalists covering the events.

Despite the large police presence on the streets and the censorship of online messages, more than 1000 people reportedly gathered at a public square in Wangfujing, Beijing, one of the suggested protest areas. A few young people were immediately removed by police without reason. One was manhandled by officers when they saw him holding a few stalks of jasmine. Similar cases occurred in Shanghai. On this first Sunday protest, police focused only on participants in the protests.

Spotlight shifts to journalists

Journalists had been blocked, harassed and manhandled by uniformed and plain-clothes officers on February 20, but there were no reports of physical violence. However, the strategy changed at protests on the following Sunday, February 27: journalists became the targets. At least 16 foreign media professionals suffered various forms of physical violence at the hands of the authorities. One video journalist was pushed to the ground by a uniformed officer and then was kicked and punched by a man believed to be from the security bureau. While on the ground the journalist was also hit on the head by a street cleaner with his broom. In other incidents, plain-clothes officers pretended to be students and approached journalists, attempting to elicit information from them on their attitudes toward the Central Government.

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Download the full report:
jasmine_effect.pdf (58 KB)

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