China:’For activists, the internet is like dancing in shackles’

By Su Yutong, Chinese blogger currently living in Germany.

When I was in China, I was a journalist. But, after four years, I decided to resign as the Chinese authorities did not allow us to report the truth. I then started to work in an NGO, doing research on social issues.

My concerns included the situation of victims of contaminated water sources, people who contracted HIV/AIDS through blood transfusion, as well as assisting vulnerable groups in defending their rights.

I was one of the more active internet activists, giving my views on public affairs, disseminating information and organizing activities.

From 2005, I was “invited for tea”, and for “chats”, kept under surveillance and periodically placed under house arrest in China.

In 2010, I distributed “Li Peng’s Diary”, a book forbidden by the authorities, and had my home raided and property confiscated by the police. With the help of international NGOs and friends, I managed to go into exile and now live in Germany.

For many bloggers in China, the most common and typical situation you face on a daily basis is all your content is suddenly deleted. In worse situations, sites will block opinions that are deemed to be “sensitive”.

I was an early internet activist. I organized a protest against the Vice Minister Wu Hao of the Yunnan Provincial Propaganda Department, in solidarity with human rights lawyer Ni Yulan; commemorative activities in relation to the Tiananmen crackdown and actions of solidarity with other activists.

Because of these actions, in 2010, the Beijing security department informed Sina (one of the biggest social media network sites in China) to block my name completely as it was deemed “sensitive”. My five email accounts at Sina were all deleted. Once, I received an intimidating message from the Sina microblogging administrator saying: “Be honest or your account will be cancelled”.

Almost all bloggers who are concerned about social issues in China will have encountered the same problems I did. The Chinese websites have set up a list of sensitive words such as “Tibet”, “Falun Gong”, “Wang Lijun”, “Bo Xilai, “Jiang Zemin” etc. Any publication containing these words is automatically blocked.

Some people say that for China internet is a gift from God. However, for internet users in China, it is more like dancing in shackles.

When an event happens, such as the 2011 Wenzhou train crash, bloggers’ comments and observations about these subjects are deleted.

Sina employs more than 1,000 administrators who review and delete blogs considered to be sensitive.

Since the beginning of 2012, internet controls have been tightening up. From 16 March, most sites implemented the real-name registration system as a way to deter internet users who wish to publish contents that are unacceptable to the authorities. If someone publishes contents deemed a threat, they may well be arrested by the authorities, tracked down via the address they provided when they registered.

There are three major issues that are politically sensitive in China: Tibet, Falun Gong and Xinjiang – discussions on these issues are forbidden.

In 2008, China’s President Hu Jintao said four factors contributed to social unrest: petitioners, rights lawyers, journalists and NGOs.

I still feel the threat from the Chinese authorities, despite the fact that I’m in Germany and that I have a stable job here.

Last December, I went to Hong Kong and attempted to travel back to China, but I was refused entry. The Chinese government has even spread rumours about me.

But I believe that there are activists in China facing a tougher situation than the one I experienced.  Human rights lawyers Teng Biao, Jiang Tianyong, Tang Jitian, Sichuan writer Ran Yunfei, artist Ai Weiwei, rights defender Wang Lihong – all have been arrested and illegally detained by the police, or even sentenced after the Jasmine revolution last year.

Thanks to the internet, I have not severed my relationship with China. From Germany I organised and participated in solidarity actions – particularly for Ai Weiwei .

After his release, while the Chinese government continues to pressure him, I became one of the organisers of the movement to support Ai Weiwei’s debt.

To the Chinese people, danger comes not from action, but from silence and submission. Rights activists such as Hu Jia and Chen Guangcheng have demonstrated this to us with their courage and action, and I would like to learn from them.