The news a few days ago that a Chinese woman had been sentenced to a year in a hard labour camp for retweeting something the Chinese government didn’t like should make those of us fortunate enough to live in countries like New Zealand incredibly thankful for the freedoms we enjoy every day.
We moan about the state of play here from time-to-time but things really aren’t so bad, are they? Sure, we have our fair share of crime and mayhem, the occasional corrupt cop or politician, sometimes the weather isn’t too flash … but if we want to criticise those in power we can without fear of spending the next year or more breaking rocks, if we want to make a slightly off-colour joke we can (in the right company, unless we’re Paul Henry), we can be pretty honest and open online about our thoughts without fear of being dragged off to court by the authorities.
Not so in countries like China.
According to Washington Post blogger Melissa Bell:
On the day of her wedding, Oct. 27, Chinese online activist Cheng Jianping disappeared. Only this week did her whereabouts surface: She had been detained and sentenced by police to a year of “re-education through labor” for retweeting a suggestion that Chinese youth attack the Japanese Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo.
Her fiance Hua Chunhui made a satirical comment mocking youth demonstrators who smashed Japanese products in protest over a dispute with Japan over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
“Anti-Japanese demonstrations, smashing Japanese products, that was all done years ago by Guo Quan [an activist and expert on the Nanjing Massacre]. It’s no new trick. If you really wanted to kick it up a notch, you’d immediately fly to Shanghai to smash the Japanese Expo pavilion,” Hua wrote.
A simple retweet by Cheng (@wangyi09 on Twitter) resulted in her arrest. The message has since disappeared from Twitter.
And even though she and her fiance both said they were actually mocking the protesters she was still charged “for disrupting social order” by authorities. Her fiance hasn’t been charged.
Cheng, a social activist, was detained for five days back in August after voicing support for China Democracy Party organiser Liu Xianbin.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tweeted his reaction to the sentence: “Dear Chinese Government, year-long detentions for sending a sarcastic tweet are neither the way forward nor the future of your great people”.
Amnesty International has also spoken up, saying the case shows China’s repression of internet users.
There’s a reason I obsessively read labels in the supermarket or when buying clothes: I’m doing my best to avoid buying anything that bears the “made in China” tag. Yes, I know it’s damn near impossible to NOT own products sourced from China, but I’m trying.
I don’t dislike Chinese people, it’s all about the Chinese government and its appalling record of human rights abuses.