The Great Firewall of China: Internet activists go stealth as China steps up censorship of Hong Kong protests

Mainland China’s formidable censorship machine is working overtime to keep its citizens in the dark about the vastly popular and quickly spreading pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

While Instagram was blocked on Sunday night – as Hong Kong police rained tear gas and pepper spray down on the tens of thousands of protestors – and Facebook, Twitter and various foreign media outlets remain unreachable, politically-minded internet activists in the mainland are finding ways to show their support, albeit with harsh consequences.

Wang Long, an activist from Shenzhen, was arrested yesterday for sharing news about the protests, according to a comment made online by his lawyer. Similarly, human rights website weiquanwang.net reported that another dissident, Shen Yanqiu ,was detained for posting pictures of herself with a newly shaved head – a symbol of solidarity with the Occupy Central campaign – and a T-shirt declaring: “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”

Unsurprisingly, China’s state media has been practically silent about the protests and ordered only to file carefully-worded wire stories from the Xinhua News Agency. According to a directive from China’s Propaganda Ministry that was obtained by US website China Digital Times, media outlets were warned to “clear away” any information about the protests, “strictly manage interactive channels, and resolutely delete harmful information.”

Even users on unblocked websites, such as Sina Weibo and Weixin, found comments about the protests were quickly deleted, or that hashtags such as #OccupyCentral, #UmbrellaRevolution and #HongKong were blocked or yielded very few search results.

However, according to on-the-ground interviews conducted by Bloomberg, many people in Beijing on Monday had heard about the protests via social media (before the posts were deleted) although their knowledge of the reasons behind them was patchy at best.

But a quiet fight goes on to get the word out, with social media users yesterday reportedly sharing stock images of Chinese President Xi Jinping carrying an umbrella – another symbol of the pro-democracy movement – and by uploading supportive comments to non-political websites that have so far escaped the censors.

For example, the New York Times reports that many were able to express themselves on a music sharing site in the comments box for the Cantonese ballad “Under the Vast Sky”, which has become an unofficial anthem of the Umbrella Revolution. Others are simply changing their online profile pictures to umbrellas. 

Picture: Mike Licht via Flickr

 

Related stories:

Hong Kong’s National Day flag raising undisturbed, but Occupy Central protestors kept away

Cyber experts uncover ‘Chinese written’ malware used to spy on Hong Kong protestors’ phones

Defiant Hong Kong protesters vow to stay put despite heavy rain

Occupy Central tell supporters to stay steadfast and guard ‘Democracy Squares’

Coconuts Meets Many Faces of the Umbrella Revolution

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