In honour of the Expo Shanghai China, the biggest display of Chinese might since the 2008 Olympic Games, Reporters Without Borders is inviting Internet users to visit a page on its website, the “Garden of Freedoms,” that’s dedicated to the freedoms that are often oppressed in China.
Hundreds of countries, regions and corporations are participating in this exhibition, but none of them have dared to make free expression part of their pavilions for fear of upsetting the Chinese authorities. Those authorities issued a directive on the eve of the opening of the Expo that said:
As regards the activities of the central authorities during the Shanghai Expo, all the media must use the reports of the Xinhua central news agency or other central media outlets. The other media must not publish their own reports and must not ask national leaders questions during their visits to Shanghai.
It added: “As regards the inaugural ceremony, you must respect the already established rules. It is forbidden to express reservations and if any incident suddenly takes place, it is forbidden to report it without permission or to publish any comment.”
106 Netizens and Journalists in Jail
That kind of control and repression is commonplace in China. As of today, 106 netizens and reporters are in jail there because they tried to challenge the kind of rules expressed in the directive. China has more people in prison for exercising freedom of expression than any other country in the world.
In light of that fact, Reporters Without Borders is asking Americans to sponsor at least one of these prisoners. By adding your name to a list of a prisoner’s supporters, you receive updates on their situation and help create awareness about the importance of their release.
‘State Secret’ Gets Wide Definition
Chinese authorities often use the “state secret” excuse to justify jailing dissidents and journalists. Of course, the definition of “state secret” is very broad and leaves the door open to all sorts of abuses.
In the latest expansion of this tool for repression, on April 29 China adopted an amendment to the State Secrets Law that forces Internet and telecommunications companies to cooperate closely with the authorities on matters relating to national security.
Under the amendment, which will take effect on October 1, these companies are required to block transmission of state secrets over their networks, to keep records of the activity, and alert authorities to possible violations. They could also be forced to suppress certain kinds of content.
In reality, these companies already cooperate with the authorities on national security matters. Will this new amendment require them to be more pro-active, and therefore engage in tighter censorship? The law also doesn’t say if foreign companies in these sectors are impacted.
The Propaganda Department, which is loyal to President Hu Jintao, whom Reporters Without Borders deemed a Predator of Press Freedom, has also launched a new offensive against the “hostile forces” that are allegedly using the Internet to destabilize China.
Wang Chen, the number two leader in the department, has urged parliamentarians to adopt an Internet Administration Law in order to block “dangerous reports” and prevent “infiltration of the Internet by hostile forces.”
These issues are the backdrop for Expo Shanghai China, which has the slogan “Better city, better life.” A more apt motto would be “Censored city, censored life.”
Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the “Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents,” published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.