China’s ruling Communist party has intensified efforts to “asphyxiate critical voices” in the run-up to the annual parliament and in reaction to recent protests inspired by the “Jasmine” revolts across the Arab world.
“We must strengthen control over the whole range of target people so they are under constant watch and prevented from going to Beijing to gather and stir up trouble,” said an official order.
The government today formally prohibited unsanctioned reporting on Wangfujing, the popular Beijing shopping street. Several foreign journalists were assaulted by police on Sunday when they tried to cover an anticipated protest march.
The regime is evidently anticipating unrest and has specifically targeted activist lawyers, including human rights activist Teng Biao and Chen Guangcheng, the blind, self-taught “barefoot” advocate who has been kept under house arrest since his release from prison.
“This year it’s even more tense than before because of the Jasmine Revolution stuff,” said human rights activist Liu Feiyue, head of Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch. “These social controls have been in place before, but now there’s a sense that they becoming more institutionalized and permanent.”
Another official directive called on authorities to “strengthen stability control of decommissioned soldiers, former prisoners and labor-reeducation inmates, mentally ill people and others who may affect social stability.”
“This is an across-the-board attempt to asphyxiate all critical voices ahead of the leadership transition,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
The relatives of victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre have called on the government to quash the official verdict on the pro-democracy protests. The move is being seen as a further indication that dissidents have been emboldened by the current upsurge in the Middle East.
“The massacre of June 4, 1989 happened nearly 22 years ago,” the Tiananmen Mothers group wrote in an open letter to China’s National People’s Congress (NPC).
The petition was published online and signed by 128 citizens, including Ding Zilin, a retired Beijing University professor whose 17-year-old son was killed in the crackdown.
China is facing “a period of magnified social conflicts,” according to President Hu Jintao. He recently told Communist party leaders that the prospect of social unrest demanded closer management of “virtual society,” in a reference to the country’s 450 million “netizens.”
The authorities have blocked use of the word “jasmine” on social networking sites and chat rooms, presenting censors with a dilemma. Jasmine is the name of a popular folk song and the restrictions have reportedly impeded access to on-line video footage of Hu Jintao singing the song.
“The real story is the indirect ways that Chinese citizens can use music and historical meaning to make this incredibly subversive statements, to take a most popular folk song and post it,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China. “The point is there is an information crack and it is growing.”