Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sina and Baidu Censor Information About "Old Tigers": Retired Senior Officials Targeted in Corruption Investigations

On March 31, 2014, the state sponsored Xiaoxiang Morning Post published an article entitled "Anti-Corruption Storm Blowing Toward Retired 'Old Tigers.'" (反腐风暴刮向退休“老老虎”). Some excerpts:
Retirement is no longer a "shield" for corrupt officials, as the anti-corruption storm taking the offensive against "old tigers." On the evening of March 28, the Guangdong Party Discipline Inspection Commission announced that Ping Limei, former chairman of the Maoming Political Consultative Conference, was being investigated on suspicion of severely violating discipline. At the time he had already been retired for two years. Recently, another retired "old tiger" who was investigated was Gu Qihai, a former department head at the Ministry of Land and Resources. After his retirement he took a position with a "not well known" association with close ties to enterprises.

On April 4, 2014, the state sponsored Beijing News published an article entitled "82 People Felled in Two Rounds of Discipline Inspection" (两轮巡视82人落马). Some excerpts:
According to a People's Daily report, since May 2013, 20 teams representing the central authorities have launched two rounds of discipline inspection covering 11 provinces and nine agencies. Based on incomplete statistics, since the inspections began, information regarding "case investigations" on the website of the Central Discipline Inspection Commission indicates that 82 people were investigated in 13 locations, of which nine were provincial level officials.
. . . .
Of the 82 people investigated by the 20 teams during the two rounds of inspection,  besides 16 for whom no age information was available, 41 were born in the 50's. Of those, at most 11 are 58 (born in 1956) and another 5 are 59 (born in 1955), far more than any other age group. In other words, besides the 16 for whom their ages can't be determined, of the 66 others, 16 people who were investigated were aged 58-59, or 24%.

After the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China [November 2012], retired senior officials have been under constant investigation, in what commentators have called the "Anti-Corruption Storm Blowing Toward Retired 'Old Tigers.'" Of the aforementioned 41 people from the "50s," Chen Bohuai, former deputy chairman of the Hubei People's Political Consultative Conference, is just one of those "Old Tigers."

. . . .

These screenshots were taken on March 19, 2014, and show that Sina Weibo and Baidu were censoring searches for “Old Tigers" (老老虎).

Monday, April 21, 2014

More Details Emerge of Internet Police Involved in Nationwide Money-For-Censorship Scheme

As noted previously in this blog, during the last year China’s state run media has exposed at least two cases involving police officers in Beijing and Hainan who were entrusted with censoring online content, and who abused their authority by taking bribes to order web masters to delete information that did not violate any of China’s laws, regulations, or policies. See:
On April 17, 2014, the state sponsored Southern Weekend published an article entitled “Internet Police Bribe Internet Police: Deleting Posts for Their Bosses” (网警贿赂网警:替领导删帖). That article provided additional details on the Hainan case mentioned above. Specifically:
  • The full name of the Hainan police officer at the center of the scandal: Wei Yining (魏一宁).
  • The total number of Internet police who paid Officer Wei bribes to delete posts: 11.
  • Locations whose Internet police participated in the money-for-censorship scheme: Hunan, Liaoning, Qingdao, Nanjing.
  • Wei Yining Trial: Wei was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. The court judgment (available here) was issued in December 13, but was only being reported on this month.
Some excerpts from the article:
Gao Qiang, a senior administrator at Kaidi Net, told this reporter that, usually the Haikou Internet police use QQ to issue deletion orders. After Gao Qiang received an order from the Internet police's common account, all he would see is an order, and there was simply no way to verify whether the order had been subject to any  legal process.

"Sometimes we would receive an order, and we would have some doubts and would follow up. The issuing Internet police officer would only say that its an order sent down from the Public Security Bureau." After a while, even though there were suspicions that certain posts should not be subjected to an order, Gao Qiang and his coworkers just got used to following orders.

Similarly, at Tianya, as soon as they received an order, the "Legal Enforcement Bureau" would chose to enforce the Internet police's order by deleting posts or shutting an account.

Orders were authoritative and could not be questioned. Even if an administrator felt doubts, they frequently did not dare question the issuer as to whether the order had been reviewed and approved by leadership, or if it was personally issued by the Internet police officer.

Anyone who had authority over the Internet could send down an order to delete a post. With respect to posts about the government that were negative, the most common demand was "Don't let them garner too much attention." "Currently the orders that come down are not in any written document, they are all issued as messages in a QQ group." Gao Qiang believes that this was a major reason why Wei Yining could use his public office for his personal gain.

Post deletion orders were not always issued in so undisciplined a manner. Many years ago, there was standard government document for orders issued to web sites. Tang Tao, a director of an Internet oversight team for a municipal government in Hunan, told a reporter with the Southern Weekend that, several years ago, when it came to post deletion, there were strict  standards and procedures regarding what kind of posts could be deleted and how they could be deleted. They mainly deleted certain posts that were unhealthy, threatening social stability, and defaming third parties.

As Tang Tao explained it, in order to delete a post, it was necessary to first submit a report to a supervisor and to the senior Internet oversight department. Afterwards, an Internet Information Registration Form was filled in, and after specifying evidence and other measures, they would write up an Internet Sensitive Information Handling Circular, and an official would sign and chop it. After these procedures were completed Web sites would be notified by phone and fax.

Based on Tang Tao's understanding, there are many kind of orders that Internet police can issue, including deletion, filtering, temporary suspension, and shutting down. Post deletion order are extremely sensitive: they must be implemented immediately.

Southern Weekend has learned from reviewing a written order from the Internet Illegal Information Inspection Management System of the Binhai New District Public Security Bureau in Tianjin that, based on the system's technical specifications, within one minute after illegal information is detected, the system will issue an SMS alert to webmasters under their jurisdiction. The system will automatically perform a check within one minute after the website has deleted the illegal information. The system also requires that Level 1 Illegal Information must be detected within 10 minutes and dealt with within 20 minutes; Level 2 Illegal Information must be detected within 20 minutes and dealt with within 40 minutes; and Level 3 Illegal Information must be detected within 60 minutes and dealt with within 20 hours.

Long-time Tianya editor Liu Liu told this reporter that, Tianya's "Law Enforcement Bureau" has 50 people. About six people handle government orders, and they work on three shifts around the clock for orders that come down from the Internet police on the internal RTX system. "The time limit for clear instructions to delete posts, for example, saying XX post must be deleted immediately, is ten minutes." Liu said that, if they do not delete a post in that time, they will be called out by name in the online group by the Internet police who issued the order: "What do you think you're doing being so slow."
. . . .
The defense lawyer claimed that, while Wei Yining received financial gain from others, nevertheless what got deleted were posts that had a severely negative impact on the government, and there was no attempt to seek any other benefits for third parties, so his actions did not constitute accepting bribes.

The Internet oversight team supervisor Tang Tao said that many people would use that kind of relationship to find a local Internet police officer in the hope getting in touch with an Internet police officer that could get posts deleted. "For example, an official in a local agency sees some negative talk about himself or his agency in a Tianya forum, so he will think to use this method to get the post deleted."

Tang Tao believes that these Internet police officers were only working on behalf of their superiors, and in some cases they might relate to classified matters, and therefore the public cannot participate in oversight of Internet police work. This lead to Internet police like Wei Yining using their public office for personal gain, using the law enforcement authority they held to provide a natural screen for their rent-seeking and money-making.

The judge in the case specifically noted in the court judgment: "Not every post that has a negative impact on the government is illegal or infringing. In accordance with the spirit of the law and requirements of government administration in accordance with the law, the government also has the obligation to accept public oversight. By receiving financial gain for deleting posts without first having undergone review and approval, he in fact weakened the effectiveness of public oversight, and in reality sought to gain benefit from the organizations and agencies at whom the posts were targeted."










. . . .



The article was originally available here - http://www.infzm.com/content/99895 - but as these screenshots show, it was deleted within hours.

As this screenshot shows, no link to article appears on the Southern Weekend web site.
 On April 18, the state sponsored Beijing News published an editorial by Zeng Ying (曾颖) about the Southern Weekend article entitled “How Can We Restrain Local Governments That Illegal Delete Posts” (地方政府非法删帖的需求怎么遏制). Some excerpts:
The [Southern Weekend] report noted that, everything that got deleted was "essentially negative information about government agencies that local governments did not want to be seen." So it appears that certain local officials' understanding of online public sentiment remains stuck in the archaic times of the broadcast age, believing deleting posts and silencing voices is the most effective way to block the spread of information they don't like. When they run into an incident in their jurisdiction, whether its justified or not, their first reaction is to make it disappear.
. . . .
There is a lack of standards in way the Internet is governed today, and this is the "objective reason" for the flood of illegal post deletion demands from officials. As for the employees who participate in and carry out post deletions, because there are no operating rules that clearly and concretely delineate whether one's own behavior is "legal" or "illegal," or where there are rules they leave far too much room unrestrained discretion, the result is a lack of guidance to the point of sinking into an abyss of criminality. There are those among them, including defense attorneys, who self-righteously believe that what they are doing is a "public service." And for those who do not see the law but only the so-called public service of their superiors, the main issue is relevant laws and regulations are not comprehensive, and the conflict between following orders and obeying they law is creating a disastrous  outcome.

. . . .

Sunday, April 20, 2014

On Eve of IPO, Sina Weibo Deploys New Whitelist Censorship Method When Another Official Commits Suicide

On April 10, 2014, the state sponsored Global Times published an article entitled “Official Suicide Wave Creates Need for Greater Transparency.” Some excerpts:
Xu Ye'an, deputy director of the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, an agency to which citizens utter grievances over injustices or disputes such as illegal land grabs or official misconduct, reportedly killed himself Tuesday in his office. The cause remains unknown, but sources close to Xu told media that Xu was not in good health lately.

The case came amid several similar stories that involved Chinese officials recently. Zhou Yu, a senior police official in Chongqing and a key figure in former Communist Party chief Bo Xilai's crackdown on organized crime, was found hanging in a hotel room. Police announced that He Gaobo, deputy director of a construction management office in Fenghua, Zhejiang Province, had committed suicide and it remains unknown if his death relates to the fatal collapse of a residential building in the city a few days ago.
. . . .
As the country's anti-graft campaign proceeds vigorously and demands over officials increase, officials from the top down, while their career future still depends on their political performance, have felt mounting pressure. That's why being an official in China is viewed as a highly risky job nowadays.

Many China watchers have observed this trend in China and pointed out loopholes in the system of China's officialdom. The best way to clear away public doubts is for authorities to publish convincing information relating to official deaths and bring enlightened transparency. Only this way can they restore public trust.
These screenshots show that on April 11 Sina Weibo was censoring searches for “Xu Ye'an” (徐业安), limiting results to “Media Reports” (媒体报道) and “Famous People’s Perspectives” (名人观点), but censoring results from “Real Time Weibos” (实时微博). By April 19, Sina Weibo was completely censoring search results for “Xu Ye’an.”

Saturday, April 19, 2014

China’s Weibos and News Sites Censor Information About Shoe Factory Strike in Dongguan

On April 15, 2014, the state sponsored Global Times reported:
Thousands of workers in South China's largest shoe company marched in protest in the city of Dongguan, Guangdong Province over contract and social security benefit issues.
. . . .
The workers were unhappy the company did not pay social security or housing fund contributions based on their real salaries but the minimum amount instead, explained Zhang Zhirui, a legal consultant at a non-governmental labor dispute service in Shenzhen.

The company said it planned to raise the social security contribution in May as requested by workers, but many workers felt dissatisfied when their salaries dropped after deductions.
On April 16, the state sponsored Shanghai Daily reported:
Factory authorities have promised workers they will make the welfare payments some time before the end of 2015, a female employee told AFP, declining to be named due to fear of arrest.

But workers were not satisfied with the offer, she added. "The factory could just leave in the middle of next year, and we might end up without welfare payments."

She added that police had beaten and detained a handful of protesters earlier this week, and armed police were still stationed outside the factory gate even though the mood had calmed.
On April 17, the state sponsored China Daily reported:
Nie Xin, of the city's publicity department, said the shoe manufacturer had agreed to increase social benefits starting in May, but the problem of paying for the benefits in arrears remains.

"Now the key problem lies in the strikers asking the shoe manufacturer to catch up on the social benefits it didn't pay workers during all the time they were employed by the company," Nie said.

"Paying back all welfare benefits over several decades for thousands of workers could bankrupt the company."

The incident sets off alarms for many other manufacturers in the economically booming Pearl River Delta region.
These screenshots show that on April 18, Sina Weibo began censoring searches for “Dongguan Yuyuan Shoe Factory Strike” (东莞裕元鞋厂罢工).
This screenshot, taken on April 19, shows that Tencent Weibo was censoring searches for that phrase also.
Chinese language reports of the incident have also begun disappearing from China’s web sites. For example:

“Over 1,000 Guangdong Shoe Factory Workers Strike to Defend Rights” (广东一家鞋厂上千员工罢工为社保维权) Originally available here: http://gd.sina.com.cn/news/m/2014-04-18/082494540.html

“Over 1,000 Guangdong Shoe Factory Workers Organize Massive Strike, Official Get Involved” (广东一鞋厂上千员工举行大规模罢工 官方介入) Originally available here: http://finance.sina.com.cn/chanjing/gsnews/20140418/085818841866.shtml

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tiananmen Watch: Sina Weibo Relaxes Censorship of Discussion of Hu Yaobang, Baidu PostBar Doesn't

On April 16, 2014, the state-sponsored Global Times published an English language article entitled “Reform Follows Hu Yaobang’s Vision: Experts.” Some excerpts:
The direction of China's current reform is consistent with the notion of late Party chief Hu Yaobang, said political analysts on the 25th anniversary of the death of the reformist leader, which fell Tuesday.

Hu was elected as general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee in February 1980, and he resigned in 1987. He died on April 15, 1989 at the age of 74.
. . . .
There was no memorial held at central government-level this year. But officials in Liuyang, Hunan Province, Hu's hometown, visited the late leader's former residence last week in a bid to learn from Hu's "man of the people" work style, the Liuyang Daily reported.

In a low profile visit, Hu Jintao, former general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, went to the residence on Friday, reported the Hong Kong-based Wen Wei Po paper. He reportedly stayed an hour at the residence and bowed to a bronze statue of the late leader.
The Liuyang Daily article the Global Times referred to is presumably the April 11, 2014, front page article entitled "Taking Yaobang as a Mirror to Seek Out the Problem of the 'Four Winds'" (以耀邦为明镜查找“四风”问题). Some excerpts:
Yesterday, municipal Party Secretary Cao Lijun, Deputy Secretary and Mayor Yu Xunwei escorted leader from the Party, municipal legislature, municipal government, and municipal Political Consultative Conference to the former residence of Comrade Hu Yaobang to launch a Party educational group study session entitled "Being Effective and Honest for the People," and received active instruction in mass line education.
The article, originally available here - http://dzb.lyrb.com.cn/shtml/lyrb/20140411/136018.shtml - has been deleted.
Screenshots showing cached copied of Liuyang Daily article about officials
visit to Hu Yaobang's ancestral home (left), and what users see today (right)
 The Wen Wei Po article referred to by the Global Times was reposted by some PRC-based media outlets on April 14, 2014, including Sina, which published the article under the title “Hong Kong Media: Hu Jintao Visits Ancestral Home of Hu Yaobang and Bows to His Statue” (港媒:胡锦涛访胡耀邦故居向其铜像鞠躬). Some excerpts:
According to Hong Kong media, on the advent of the 25th anniversary of the death of Hu Yaobang, last Friday morning, former Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao went to Hu Yaobang's ancestral home in Zhonghe County, Liuyang, Hunan.  He stayed for about an hour, and during that time he bowed in tribute to a statue of Hu Yaobang.
The article, originally available here - http://news.sina.com.cn/c/p/2014-04-14/085229928182.shtml - has been deleted.
Screenshots showing cached copied of Sina article about Hu Jintao's
visit to Hu Yaobang's ancestral home (left), and what users see today (right)
These screenshots show that, unlike 2013, this year Sina Weibo is not censoring searches for “Hu Yaobang.”

These screenshots show that Baidu, however, continues to ban users from establishing a PostBar (Tieba  贴吧) forum about Hu Yaobang.