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My Thoughts on Reading Freedom House Report on China and Censorship

posted Jan 17, 2015, 7:01 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
By Buchung K. Tsering (ICT), January 13, 2015.

 Three weeks back, Freedom House, the Washington, D.C. based organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world issued a report titled “The Politburo’s Predicament: Confronting the Limitations of Chinese Communist Party Repression”. [1] I have just finished reading it and the encouragement to do so came from an op-ed by Fred Hiatt about it in the Washington Post [2] of January 12, 2015 and a discussion that took place in Freedom House on January 13, 2015.

Written by Sarah Cook, a senior research analyst for East Asia at Freedom House, the report examines the state of censorship and internal security apparatus in China, under President Xi Jinping.

It says repression has intensified under President Xi and that the Chinese Communist Party is also trapped in a vicious circle whereby increasing coercion breeds growing resistance, requiring ever more intense crackdowns.

In brief, the report finds:

Concentration of power at the very top: Ultimate authority over information controls and domestic security has been consolidated in the hands of President Xi himself via new party entities.

Expanded targets of repression: Of 17 categories of victims assessed, 11 experienced greater restrictions after President Xi took power.

Revival of old practices alongside new methods: Tactics and terminology reminiscent of the Mao Zedong era—including televised confessions—have been revived alongside more novel approaches. Increasingly strategic, multipronged campaigns, criminal and extralegal detentions, and the “community corrections” system have been used to punish activists and intimidate social-media users.

Civil society resilience: Despite heightened repression, fear of the regime appears to be diminishing. Civic participation in rights defense activities is growing. Banned information circulates despite censorship. And activities that the authorities have invested tremendous resources in suppressing have continued and even expanded.

Regime insecurity and internal resistance: The increase in repression appears to be driven by a deep sense of insecurity. Some of those tasked with implementing censorship, propaganda, and repression are instead showing sympathy with victims, quietly refusing to comply with orders, and expressing regret for their role in obstructing other citizens’ freedoms.

The report notes with interest an extreme attention to detail leading to a sense of information-control overkill. The example it cites is a censorship directive [3] on a music video by a Taiwanese singer Deserts Chang.

The report says, “… on April 10, 2014, the following directive was issued by the State Council Information Office: “At 0:49 in the music video for Deserts Chang’s song ‘Rose-Colored You,’ the person in the ambulance is holding a ‘Free Tibet’ kerchief…. Please delete this video.”

Fred Hiatt has also highlighted this example in his op-ed. [4]

I watched the music video [5] and indeed if you observe carefully (as can be seen from this screen shot) the person on the stretcher appears to be holding a Tibetan national flag and the flag seems to be printed on his shirt, too.

As would be the case, many of the study’s findings are applicable to the present situation in Tibet.

On the situation in Tibet now compared with pre-November 2012 levels, the study says, “As self-immolations reached their peak in November 2012 and then continued periodically, official reprisals for those involved intensified. In a form of collective punishment, a regulation allowed those found to have assisted a self-immolator to be charged with homicide. A late 2013 crackdown in one county alone led to at least 58 detentions and 15 prison sentences of up to 18 years. At least two monks, including a popular religious leader, were beaten to death in custody in 2013 within weeks of their detention.”

So, what should the international community do? The author says, “The United States and other democracies should work together to more effectively assist victims of repression and challenge official impunity. They should also seriously reconsider assumptions that the Communist Party will rule indefinitely, and that any liberalization will come from the top down.”







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