China launches campaign to crack down on ‘illegal’ online activities and ‘fake’ news

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The Communist Party of China’s Central Propaganda Department in conjunction with nine other Party and government departments and agencies last week announced the launch of a campaign to crack down on illegal online activities and fake news.

The announcement was made after the propaganda department held a video conference with the Central Cyberspace Administration of China, the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Public Security, the State Administration of Taxation, the State Administration for Market Regulation, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, and the All-China Association of Journalists.

The video conference held on 4 August focussed on the need to carry out a concerted crackdown with “Xi Jinping’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era as a guide [to] deepen understanding, unify thinking, gather strength, coordinate actions, and comprehensively and deeply promote special actions” under the campaign.

The current crackdown calls for scaling up of online regulation and monitoring for which the officials at all levels of governance are required to implement the measures with an added sense of political responsibility.

The Chinese Party-state is known for its policies and practices in stifling media and digital space and the campaign will render a further blow to the right to freedom of expression, opinion, and information. In particular, social media apps such as WeChat used widely by Tibetans will face increased scrutiny and censorship.

Detained for online activities

Within a week after the campaign’s announcement, exile Tibetan sources reported the detention of Tibetans following random searches of personal phones and contents posted on WeChat.

On 8 August 2021, three Tibetans were detained during the 70th founding anniversary celebration of the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture for sharing pictures of the anniversary celebration on a 200-member online chat group that also included some Tibetans living outside Tibet. 

In contrast to pictures released in official media, the anniversary was held with the heavy deployment of police and armed forces to restrict the movement of Tibetans and conduct random searches of their cell phones.

The whereabouts of Rinchen Dorje and Kalsang Nyima from Domda town in Yushu TAP and Lhundup from Sershul (Ch: Shiqu) County in Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture remain unknown after their detention

On 9 August, Chinese authorities in Nagchu (Ch: Naqu) City in Tibet Autonomous Region summoned 110 Tibetans from Janglam Township to the local police station. Following interrogations and thorough searches of their phones, 30 of them had been detained with no further information.

Similarly, it has now emerged that the recent detention of Trotsik monastery’s head disciplinarian Konmey in Ngaba County was likely the result of him performing prayer recitation in a WeChat group.

Against international standards 

Tibetans detained for online activities are mostly charged with “leaking state secrets”, “inciting separatism”, or violating cybersecurity laws. In reality, these charges are used as a tool to restrict human rights and have no basis in international law.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also provides that “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

TCHRD reiterates its calls to the Chinese authorities to put an immediate end to policies and campaigns that violate the people’s right to freedom of thought, expression, and access to information. Tibetans detained arbitrarily and disappeared for exercising their human rights must be released immediately without conditions.