Friday, March 28, 2014

US Court Rules Baidu Enjoys Freedom of Speech, Baidu Bans Forums on “Freedom of Speech”

According to a March 27 report by Reuters:
Chinese Internet company Baidu Inc on Thursday won the dismissal of a U.S. lawsuit by pro-democracy activists who complained that Baidu illegally suppressed political speech on China's most widely used Internet search engine.

Eight New York writers and video producers had accused Baidu of creating search engine algorithms, at the behest of China, to block users in the United States from viewing articles, videos and other information advocating greater democracy in China.
. . . .
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan, however, concluded that the results produced by Baidu's search engine constituted protected free speech under the U.S. Constitution, warranting dismissal of the May 2011 lawsuit.

"The First Amendment protects Baidu's right to advocate for systems of government other than democracy (in China or elsewhere) just as surely as it protects plaintiffs' rights to advocate for democracy," the judge wrote.
Furman likened a search engine's "editorial judgment" to that of a newspaper editor who decides which stories to publish.
The case is Zhang et al v. Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-03388.

This screenshot, taken on March 27, shows that Baidu has banned users from establishing a PostBar (贴吧 Tieba) forum on the topic of “Freedom of Speech” (言论自由), and that a search for that phrase on Baidu’s Library (Wenku 文库) product yields no results.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

After Person Reportedly Commits Suicide Baidu Censors Searches for Their Name (Again)

At 10:15 am on March 26, 2014, the state-sponsored magazine Caixin published an article on its web
site entitled “SCIO Deputy Director Li Wufeng Commits Suicide by Jumping Out a Window” (国新办副主任李伍峰坠楼).

The article, originally available here:,  was deleted in less than an hour.

These screenshots show that, within hours of the article being pulled down, Baidu began censoring searches for “Li Wufeng Commits Suicide by Jumping Out a Window (李伍峰坠楼).

These screenshots were taken on March 27, about 24 hours after Baidu began censoring Li's name, but there is no indication that either Sina Weibo or Qihoo were censoring searches "Li Wufeng."

But then again, neither is there any information on Sina Weibo or the first page of Qihoo's results that is more recent than December 2013.

This is not the first time Baidu has censored information relating to an alleged suicide. For example, in February 2014, Baidu began censoring “Xue Fushun” after he died at the offices of the People's Procuratorate in Qufu, Shandong. Officials stated it was a suicide.


In October, 2013, Baidu censored “Tiananmen Suicide” (天安门 自杀) after police said a driver and two passengers were killed after their jeep crashed into a crowd of people and caught fire in front of the Tiananmen rostrum in downtown Beijing.


In May 2013, Baidu and other search engines censored “Jingwen” (京温), the name of a coat outlet where Yuan Liya, 22, died after plunging from the seventh floor and police claimed initial findings pointed to suicide.


Finally, in March 2010, after the physician and academician Li Leishi passed away, Baidu and other search engines censored “Li Leishi Suicide” (黎磊石 自杀) .

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sina Weibo Censors Searches for Yangzhuang Coal Mine Strike in Feicheng, Shandong

In the last week of February, 2014, posts such as the following began appearing on Sina Weibo. The post reads:
Shandong Feicheng city, over 1,000 coal miners went on strike at the Feicheng Yangzhuang coal mine because they had not been paid for six months. Big strike, repay salaries, return the blood and sweat of the Yangzhuang miners to us. Workers’ salaries were last paid back in August, now prices for goods are so high, will you or will you not let ordinary Chinese survive . . . .

山东省肥城市,因半年未领到工资,肥城杨庄煤矿上千工人罢工. 大罢工讨要工资,杨庄人的血汗线还给我们。工人的工资才发到去年的8月份,现在的物价这么高,还让不让老百姓生存了. . . .
These screenshots show that on February 26, 2014, Sina Weibo began censoring search results for “Over 1,000 Workers Strike at Feicheng’s Yangzhuang Coal Mine” (肥城杨庄煤矿上千工人罢工).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

United Nations Statement on Cao Shunli Disappears From Baidu's Search Results

On March 18, 2014, a statement entitled “Deadly Reprisals: UN Experts Deplore the Events Leading to the Death of Chinese Human Rights Defender Cao Shunli, and Ask for Full Investigation” (致命报复:联合国专家对导致中国维权人士曹顺利死亡的事件表示痛惜,并要求予以彻查) was published on the web site of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. An excerpt:
A group of UN experts today expressed their dismay concerning the death of Cao Shunli in hospital on 14 March, and extended their sincere condolences to her family and friends.

Ms. Cao was a prominent human rights lawyer in China who had tirelessly campaigned since 2008 for transparency and greater participation of civil society in the second universal periodic review (UPR) of China’s human rights record by the UN Human Rights Council.

On 14 September 2013, Ms. Cao was prevented by Chinese authorities from boarding a flight from Beijing to Geneva where she was to participate in a human rights seminar and observe China’s UPR. Ms. Cao’s whereabouts were unknown until she was charged with the crime of provocation. Her health deteriorated while she was in detention and she was transferred to hospital in a critical condition on 19 February 2014.

Ms. Cao’s enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, failing health and the fact that she was denied medical care were brought to the attention of the UN experts who transmitted urgent appeals to China.




These screenshots show that on March 20, a Baidu user searching for “Cao Shunli" (曹顺利 got four results, the first of which was the foregoing statement. A user doing the same search on March 21 only got two results, and the foregoing statement was not among them.

China is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. On March 21, 2014, that body issues a press release entitled “Human Rights Council Concludes Debate on its Subsidiary Bodies, Holds Debate on Universal Periodic Review." Some excerpts:
Czech Republic said unfortunately the openness of the Universal Periodic Review process vis a vis civil society stakeholders was under attack, and there had been highly-disturbing reports of persecution, harassment and criminalization of people involved in it. The Czech Republic was appalled by the harassment, arrest and recent death in jail of Ms. Cao Shunli in China and called for a prompt and independent investigation into her death. The Czech Republic tried to be constructively critical in its statements and expected the same from other States.

China firmly rejected any attempt by a country or non-governmental organization to use the Universal Periodic Review to achieve politicized objectives, such as naming and shaming a country. Such politicization ran contrary to the principles of the Universal Periodic Review, especially if certain non-governmental organizations used the time allocated to them to engage in activities that were contrary to the rules of procedure and the Universal Periodic Review itself. Such a confrontational act was an affront to the principles of the objectivity and transparency of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism.
. . . .
Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme expressed its support to the moment of silence called for by its civil society colleagues during the consideration of the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of China. It was very concerned about harassment, arrest and reprisals against members of the non-governmental organizations who wished to cooperate with Human Rights Council mechanisms.
. . . .
China, speaking in a right of reply, said that the constitution of China guaranteed the right to freedom of expression and reiterated that citizens should exercise their rights within the legal framework. China attached importance to the participation of non-governmental organizations in the Universal Periodic Review process and it guaranteed the rights of those detained, including the right to legal representation and adequate medical care. Cao Shunli died of her illness despite the medical care provided and it had nothing to do with China’s Universal Periodic Review.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sina Identifies Censorship and Real Name Risks in Its Weibo IPO Filing

According to March 15, 2014 article in the state-sponsored China Daily:
Twitter-like messaging service Weibo Corp filed on March 14 to raise $500 million via a US initial public offering, as Chinese companies flock to the American market in record numbers to take advantage of soaring valuations.

Weibo, owned by Sina Corp, becomes the latest Chinese Internet giant to tap US markets, following on the heels of search service Baidu and its own corporate parent. Alibaba, which owns a stake in Weibo, is expected to raise about $15 billion in New York this year, in the highest-profile Internet IPO since Facebook's in 2012.

Weibo increased ad revenue by 163 percent to $56 million in the final three months of 2013. Overall revenues leapt almost three-fold to $188.3 million in 2013, from $65.9 million in 2012. And its net loss shrank to $38.1 million in 2013 from $102.5 million the previous year.

Some excerpts from that document (emphasis in bold italics and red added by this blog):

Risks Relating to Doing Business in China

Regulation and censorship of information disseminated over the internet in China may adversely affect our business and subject us to liability for information displayed on our platform.

The PRC government has adopted regulations governing internet access and the distribution of information over the internet. Under these regulations, internet content providers and internet publishers are prohibited from posting or displaying over the internet content that, among other things, impairs the national dignity of China, is reactionary, obscene, superstitious, fraudulent or defamatory, or otherwise violates PRC laws and regulations. Failure to comply with these requirements may result in the revocation of licenses to provide internet content and other licenses and the closure of the concerned websites. The website operator may also be held liable for such censored information displayed on or linked to the website.

In addition, the MIIT has published regulations that subject website operators to potential liability for content displayed on their websites and for the actions of users and others using their systems, including liability for violations of PRC laws prohibiting the dissemination of content deemed to be socially destabilizing. The Ministry of Public Security has the authority to order any local internet service provider to block any internet website at its sole discretion. From time to time, the Ministry of Public Security has stopped the dissemination over the internet of information which it believes to be socially destabilizing. The State Administration for the Protection of State Secrets is also authorized to block any website it deems to be leaking state secrets or failing to meet the relevant regulations relating to the protection of state secrets in the dissemination of online information.

Although we attempt to monitor the content posted by users on our platform, we are not able to effectively control or restrict content (including comments as well as pictures, videos and other multimedia content) generated or placed on our platform by our users. In March 2012, we had to disable the Comment feature on our platform for three days to clean up feeds related to certain rumors. To the extent that PRC regulatory authorities find any content displayed on our platform objectionable, they may require us to limit or eliminate the dissemination of such information on our platform. Failure to do so may subject us to liabilities and penalties and may even result in the temporary blockage or complete shutdown of our online operations. In addition, the Judicial Interpretation on the Application of Law in Trial of Online Defamation and Other Online Crimes jointly promulgated by the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate, which became effective on September 10, 2013, imposes up to a three-year prison sentence on internet users who fabricate or knowingly share defamatory false information online. The implementation of this newly promulgated judicial interpretation may have a significant and adverse effect on the traffic of our platform and discourage the creation of user generated content, which in turn may impact the results of our operations and ultimately the trading price of our ADSs. Although our active user base has increased over the past several years, regulation and censorship of information disseminated over the internet in China may adversely affect our user experience and reduce users’ engagement and activities on our platform as well as adversely affect our ability to attract new users to our platform. Any and all of these adverse impacts may ultimately materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.

We are required to verify the identities of all of our users who post on Weibo, but have not been able to do so, and our noncompliance exposes us to potentially severe penalty by the Chinese government.

The Rules on the Administration of Microblog Development, issued by the Beijing Municipal Government in 2011, stipulate that users who post publicly on microblogs are required to disclose their real identity to the microblogging service provider, though they may still use pen names on their accounts. Microblogging service providers are required to verify the identities of their users. In addition, microblogging service providers based in Beijing were required to verify the identities of all of their users by March 16, 2012, including existing users who post publicly on their websites. The user identity verification requirements have deterred new users from completing their registrations on Weibo, and a significant portion of the registrations in which user identity information was provided were rejected because they do not match the Chinese government database.

We have made significant efforts to comply with the user verification requirements. However, for reasons including existing user behaviors, the nature of the microblogging product and the lack of clarity on specific implementation procedures, we have not been able to verify the identities of all of the users who post content publicly on Weibo. While the rules are not clear regarding the type and extent of penalties that may be imposed on non-compliant microblogging service providers, we are potentially liable for our noncompliance and may be subject to penalties including the deactivation of certain features on Weibo, termination of Weibo operations or other penalties imposed by the Chinese government. Any of the above actions may have a material and adverse impact on the trading price of our ADSs.

We may have to register our encryption software with Chinese regulatory authorities, and if they request that we change our encryption software, our business operations could be disrupted as we develop or license replacement software.
Pursuant to the Regulations for the Administration of Commercial Encryption promulgated in 1999, foreign and domestic companies operating in China are required to seek approval from the Office of the State for Cipher Code Administration, the Chinese encryption regulatory authority, for the commercial encryption products they use. Companies operating in China are allowed to use only commercial cipher code products approved by this authority and are prohibited to use self-developed or imported cipher code products without approval. In addition, all cipher code products shall be produced by those producers appointed and approved by this authority. Additional rules became effective in 2006 regulating many aspects of commercial cipher code products in detail, including development, production and sales.

Because these regulations do not specify what constitutes a cipher code product, we are unsure as to whether or how they apply to us and the encryption software we utilize. We may be required to register or apply for permits for our current or future encryption software. If the PRC authorities request that we register our encryption software or change our current encryption software to an approved cipher code product produced by an appointed producer, it could disrupt our business operations.

. . . .


Regulations on Internet Content Services

National security considerations are an important factor in the regulation of internet content in China. The National People’s Congress has enacted laws with respect to maintaining the security of internet operations and internet content. According to these laws, as well as the Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services, violators may be subject to penalties, including criminal sanctions, for internet content that:

• opposes the fundamental principles stated in the PRC Constitution;
• compromises national security, divulges state secrets, subverts state power or damages national unity;
harms the dignity or interests of the state;
• incites ethnic hatred or racial discrimination or damages inter-ethnic unity;
• undermines the PRC’s religious policy or propagates superstition;
• disseminates rumors, disturbs social order or disrupts social stability;
• disseminates obscenity or pornography, encourages gambling, violence, murder or fear or incites the commission of a crime;
• insults or slanders a third party or infringes upon the lawful rights and interests of a third party; or
• is otherwise prohibited by law or administrative regulations.

Internet content provision service operators are required to monitor their websites. They may not post or disseminate any content that falls within these prohibited categories and must remove any such content from their websites. The PRC government may shut down the websites of Internet Content Provision License holders that violate any of the above-mentioned content restrictions, order them to suspend their operations, or revoke their Internet Content Provision Licenses.

To comply with these PRC laws and regulations, we have adopted internal procedures to monitor content displayed on our platform, including a team of employees dedicated to screening and monitoring content uploaded on our platform and removing inappropriate or infringing content.

To the extent that PRC regulatory authorities find any content displayed on or through our platform objectionable, they may require us to limit or eliminate the dissemination or availability of such content on our platform or impose penalties, including the revocation of our operating licenses or the suspension or shutdown of our online operations. In addition, the costs of compliance with these regulations may increase as the volume of content and number of users on our website increase.

Regulations on Information Security

Internet content in China is also regulated and restricted from a state security point of view. The Decision Regarding the Safeguarding of Internet Security, enacted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and amended in 2009, makes it unlawful to: (i) gain improper entry into a computer or system of strategic importance; (ii) disseminate politically disruptive information; (iii) leak state secrets; (iv) spread false commercial information; or (v) infringe intellectual property rights.

The Administrative Measures for the Security Protection of International Connections to Computer Information Network, promulgated by the Ministry of Public Security in 1997, prohibit the use of the internet in ways that, among other things, result in a leakage of state secrets or the distribution of socially destabilizing content. Socially destabilizing content includes any content that incites defiance or violations of PRC laws or regulations or subversion of the PRC government or its political system, spreads socially disruptive rumors or involves cult activities, superstition, obscenities, pornography, gambling or violence. State secrets are defined broadly to include information concerning PRC’s national defense affairs, state affairs and other matters as determined by the PRC authorities.
The Provisions on Technological Measures for Internet Security Protection, promulgated by the Ministry of Public Security in 2005, require all internet content provision operators to keep records of certain information about their users (including user registration information, log-in and log-out times, IP addresses, content and time of posts by users) for at least 60 days and submit the above information as required by laws and regulations. Internet content provision operators must regularly update information security systems for their websites with local public security authorities, and must also report any instances of public dissemination of prohibited content. If an internet content provision operator violates these measures, the PRC government may revoke its Internet Content Provision License and shut down its websites.

In addition, the State Secrecy Bureau has issued provisions authorizing the blocking of access to any website it deems to be leaking state secrets or failing to comply with the relevant legislation regarding the protection of state secrets.

Because Weimeng is an internet content provision operator, we are subject to laws and regulations relating to information security. To comply with these laws and regulations, our VIE has completed the mandatory security filing procedures with local public security authorities. We regularly update our information security and content-filtering systems based on any newly issued content restrictions, and maintain records of user information as required by relevant laws and regulations. We have also taken measures to delete or remove links to content that, to our knowledge, contains information that violates PRC laws and regulations.

If, despite the precautions, we fail to identify and prevent illegal or inappropriate content from being displayed on or through our platform, we may be subject to liability. In addition, these laws and regulations are subject to interpretation by the relevant authorities, and it may not be possible to determine in all cases what content could result in liability. To the extent that PRC regulatory authorities find any content displayed on or through our platform objectionable, they may require us to limit or eliminate the dissemination or availability of such content or impose penalties, including the revocation of our operating licenses or the suspension or shutdown of our online operations. In addition, the costs of compliance with these regulations may increase as the volume of content and users on our website increase.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Hours After Cao Shunli Reportedly Dies in Custody, Baidu and Tencent Begin Censoring Her Name

On March 14, 2014, overseas media reported that Cao Shunli (曹顺利) had died in detention.

These screenshots show that Baidu and Tencent began censoring searches for her name around the same time as her death was being reported.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Watch: Reports of Wang Qishan Complaining About Formalistic Speeches Disappear

Report on prior to
it being deleted.
On March 11, 2014, several of China’s state run media outlets published a report entitled “Wang
Qishan Tells Jilin Party Secretary to ‘Cut It’: Don’t Read of a Script Formalistically!” (王岐山“叫停”吉林省委书记念稿:形式主义别念了!). According to these reports, Wang Qishan, head of the Communist Party’s internal discipline commission and one of seven members of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, interrupted Jilin party secretary Wang Rulin (王儒林) in the middle of his reading a speech saying: “Make it short!” (讲短点). According to these reports Wang Rulin replied “I may not be able to shorten it,” to which Wang Qishan responded:
Just now I didn’t have a script, so how is it that you knew and printed out so much ahead of time? Isn’t this just formalism? There’s no need for you to keep reading!
These screenshots show that Sina Weibo began censoring searches for "Wang Qishan Jilin Party Secretary" (王岐山 吉林省委书记) within hours of the report's publication.

This video shows Baidu search results for that phrase. Although Baidu returned search results, it  restricted results to China-based web sites, and clicking on the results shows that the report had been deleted from every site.

Friday, March 7, 2014

On Day of Two Sessions, Sina Weibo Censors Searches Relating to Violence and Fire In Tiananmen Square

China held the opening meeting of the second session of the 12th NPC at the Great Hall of the People at Tiananmen Square on March 5, 2014.

These screenshots show that on that afternoon Sina Weibo began censoring searches for “Tiananmen Burning” (天安门 燃烧) and “Tiananmen Violence” (天安门 暴动).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Baidu Censors Social Media Results From Searches for Former Politburo Member's Sons' Names

He Guoqiang (贺国强) is a retired Communist Party official. Previously he was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and the Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

These screenshots show that on February 20, 2014, Baidu increased its censorship of “He Jintao” (贺锦涛)  and “He Jinlei” (贺锦雷) - the names  of He Guoqiang’s sons. In both cases, on February 19 a search for their names restricted to results on returned results that were mostly from Sina’s blogging and forum services. The following day the same search excluded results from those services (so in the case of He Jinlei there were apparently no other results to be displayed, so Baidu just showed a censorship notice).

Monday, March 3, 2014

Official's Warning About Threat Posed by Party Cadres' Work Style Gets Censored

On February 17, 2014, the state sponsored web site published an article entitled “Zhejiang Secretary: Western Hostile Forces Are Using Our Work Style to Drive a Wedge Into the Party-Public Relationship” (浙江书记:西方敌对势力用作风问题离间干群关系). Some excerpts:
Zhejiang Party Secretary Xia Baolong said that endless paperwork and meetings are a common phenomenon, the reason being that many leading local cadres are used to using meetings to set up more meetings, and using paperwork to create more paperwork. Some leading cadres like to go around reviewing their departments followed by a coterie of hangers-on, having happy crowds welcome them and see them off, listen to report. They great good news with a smile and bad news with anger, leading their subordinates to report the good and bury the bad and be unwilling to speak the truth. The root of these problems lies within the cadres themselves.
. . . .
Xia Baolong said with a deep sense of feeling that Western hostile forces are continually using our the problem of our cadres' work style and the contradictions that arise in the process of development to their advantage to blacken the image of the Party. They sow discord between the Party and the public. If these work style problem are allowed to continue and spread, then it wouldn't be going to far to say we should worry about a "Farewell My Concubine."

. . . .
These screenshots show that the story was subsequently deleted.

These screenshots were taken on February 20, 2014, and show that both Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo were censoring searches for “Zhejiang Secretary” (浙江书记) and “Xia Baolong” (夏宝龙).