Chinese woman jailed for tweet

Faith Merino · November 22, 2010 · Short URL:

Cheng Jianping, 46, is believed to be the first person ever arrested in China for a tweet

Cheng Jianping, a 46-year-old human rights activist in China, was sentenced to one year of re-education in a labor camp last week for “disturbing social order.”  Her offense?  A tweet.  Not even her own tweet—it was a re-tweet.  The real kicker is that the original author of the tweet, Cheng’s fiancé, Hua Chunhui, was not arrested.

While Cheng was charged with disturbing social order, human rights groups contend that she was arrested for her activism and her known support of Liu Xiaobo, the human rights activist, author, and professor who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in early 2009.  Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year, much to the Chinese government’s dismay.

The offending tweet originally sent by Hua was a jab at young Chinese nationalists who had gone on a destructive spree, smashing Japanese products in protest over a maritime conflict between China and Japan regarding the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands.  "Anti-Japanese demonstrations, smashing Japanese products, that was all done years ago by [activist] Guo Quan. It's no new trick. If you really wanted to kick it up a notch, you'd immediately fly to Shanghai to smash the Japanese Expo pavilion."

Cheng re-tweeted, adding: “Charge, angry youth!”  She disappeared ten days later, on what was to be her wedding day.  Her family and friends later learned that she had been arrested and sentenced to one year of hard labor.  She is believed to be the first person ever arrested for a tweet.

“Sentencing someone to a year in a labour camp, without trial, for simply repeating another person’s clearly satirical observation on Twitter demonstrates the level of China’s repression of online expression” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Director for the Asia-Pacific, in the organization’s statement.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo also spoke out on the issue, via Twitter, of course.  "Dear Chinese Government, year-long detentions for sending a sarcastic tweet are neither the way forward nor the future of your great people," Costolo tweeted Friday.

Twitter has been blocked in China since June 2009.  It was initially blocked in the days leading up to the Tiananmen Square anniversary, in anticipation of pro-democracy demonstrations, and then was unblocked briefly in July.  But riots in July led to a re-institution of the ban, and the microblogging site has been blocked since.  Users have, nonetheless, found ways around the ban.  Reports recently emerged that Chinese consumers who had managed to procure a Kindle 3G (also banned in China) on the gray market found that they could access blocked sites like Facebook and Twitter using the device’s whispernet technology.

Other blocked sites include:

-Facebook, banned since July 2009

-YouTube, banned since March 2009 (though it was temporarily blocked several times in 2007 and 2008, as well)

-FourSquare, blocked in June 2010

-Blogspot, blocked since May 2009

-Wikipedia, blocked since 2007, approximately

-Amnesty International (, blocked since January 2009

A number of websites have been intermittently blocked and unblocked, including Flickr, which is currently unblocked, but was blocked from June 2009 to May 2010.  Online publications have also experienced periodic and unexplained blocks.  Both the New York Times and the Huffington Post were recently unblocked. was technically blocked as of January 2010, but throughout the year, many major cities regained access to the site.

Google made headlines earlier this year when it refused to continue to comply with Chinese censorship laws, following a cyber attack that was believed to be an effort to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese activists.  Today, Chinese Web users can run searches through Google’s Hong Kong search engine.

"The question is at what point will there be so many Chinese people online that such mechanisms break down in terms of censorship and so forth?" said Eric Schmidt during a talk hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. "If you think about the scale, they've got a billion phones that are trying to express themselves. It will be difficult in my view to completely keep up with that."

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