The Communist Party of China (CPC) began a clampdown on activists by restricting their social media accounts ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics scheduled to be held next month. Several activists told news agency AFP that their social media messaging apps like WeChat were subjected to varying forms of restrictions.
Eight such activists told the news agency that they were facing restrictions on their WeChat app in some form since early December. Veteran journalist Gao Yu told AFP that the magnitude of the implementation of such restrictions were unprecedented. “This storm of shuttering WeChat accounts is too strong and unprecedented,” Yu was quoted as saying.
Beijing-based writer Zhang Yihe joined Yu but her restriction was slightly different. Her WeChat accounts ‘Moments feature has been disabled since January 8. The ‘Moments’ feature is somewhat similar to Facebook’s Wall or Instagram Stories. Tsinghua University sociology professor Guo Yuhua and prominent legal scholar He Weifang faced tough curbs as their WeChat account was permanently blocked since January 9. Zhang said that such moves were tantamount to removing someone completely from public space.
An expert told the news agency that the moves by the CPC was to ensure that people do not cross the line online. “The government now wants to make sure that people don’t cross the line online to poke the facade of a perfect Winter Olympic Games,” senior China researcher Yaqiu Wang who works for the Human Rights Watch told AFP.
Not only online restrictions but outright removal of activists from public spaces have also begun in China as the Olympics are about to be held. Prominent human rights activists like lawyer Xie Yang and writer Yang Maodong have been missing since early December. Their relatives believe that they are kept in secret detention. Tang Jitian, a human rights lawyer disappeared en route to Beijing where he was scheduled to attend an EU Human Rights Day event. His relatives too feel that he is under secret detention and added that complaints made to the police did not yield results as they did not even register the complaint.
He Weifang lamented that the space for public discourse in China was shrinking. The Beijing Games organisers told the AFP that they were unaware of such developments.