China has shut down the social media accounts of hundreds of people recently released from prison in an effort to deny an online platform to “illegal and unethical” people, the country’s audiovisual regulator said.
The move targets “illegal content” produced by people who “fail to correct their political views” after completing a prison sentence, according to an opinion piece published on the state-run China News Service.
It is likely to have a profound impact on political prisoners, who often are prevented from working and placed under continuous surveillance even after serving their time.
By January 21, the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television’s online content arm had shut down 222 accounts and “cleaned up” thousands of content that “depicts the prison experience [and] calls into question the national legal system,” the report said.
The crackdown is aimed at blocking ex-prisoners’ ability to “attract online traffic” or sell products online, it said, without specifying what kind of sentences such prisoners had served.
Online platforms Douyin, Kuaishou, Weibo, Bilibili, Xiaohongshu and Tencent had all cooperated on “examination and reform” of their content, it said.
“All short videos released by accounts of former prisoners were manually reviewed,” the report said, adding that 83 keywords related to prison release had been blocked, making it difficult for live streamers to attract viewers of such content.
Trying to survive
Dissident Xu Wanping, who has served a total of 20 years in prison, said many recently released prisoners have shared their experiences or simply sold items online as a way to make a living from their release.
“They are trying to address their basic needs to exist after their release from prison, and society should pay more attention to how to do that,” Xu told RFA. “They should get more help and support.”
Declared supported news site The paper quoted an industry watchdog as saying that authorities are trying to prevent people from “bragging about their experiences of crime or prison” online or passing on insider information to the public.
Former university lecturer Gu Guoping, who has been repeatedly detained by Shanghai police, said those released from prison should not be deprived of their rights.
“They are normal citizens and therefore should not be deprived of their right to speak,” Guo said. “[Legally]a citizen has the right to freedom of expression.”
In practice, this is rarely the case for former political prisoners, who are kept under surveillance in a place determined by the authorities, sometimes for years after their release, and often prevented from earning a living.
Prominent rights lawyer Tang Jitian was released after more than a year of police detention on January 14, turning up in his birthplace in the northeastern province of Jilin instead of his home in Beijing, a common practice for recently released political prisoners.
“I’ll try to keep doing what I can keep doing, but … I can’t say more right now,” Tang told RFA, saying it was “inconvenient” to speak, a phrase often used by people targeted for official surveillance.
Tang’s friend and fellow rights activist Xiang Li said Tang had been sent back to his parents’ hometown of Dunhua, Jilin, on the morning of January 14 by the state security police.
“I personally believe that … the State Security Police drove him to a place in Dunhua and then asked his family to come and pick him up,” he said.
Tang’s license to practice law was revoked in 2010 after he campaigned for direct election to the state-run Bar Association and represented practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
His friend Zhao Zhongyuan said his “release” does not mean he has regained his freedom.
“No, that’s definitely not going to happen,” Zhao said. “Tang Jitian was already being monitored before he lost his freedom… the authorities have been monitoring him for many years and they will not give up.”
Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.