China and Vietnam stifle freedom of expression about the disease

When efforts to hide the pandemic were unsuccessful, China had to mobilize the whole Party and its people to stop the spread of Wuhan pneumonia. However, the fight against the disease does not prevent the Chinese machinery for supressing freedom of speech from operating at full capacity.

With the serious spread of the disease, Beijing has strengthened its censorship, monitoring and restrictiing the freedoms already supressed in this giant country.

Hong Kong people light candles to pray for Dr. Li Wenliang, February 7

The start of this censorship campaign was on January 1,, by the Chinese authorities arrested Dr. Li Wenliang, the first to warn about the emergence of an acute respiratory symptoms virus similar to SARS on Dec 30, 2019.

Subsequently, the police repeatedly warned and arrested the authors of information about the disease that was not beneficial to the Communist Party of China (CPC). At least 40 people were warned, fined and detained administratively and criminally charged on January 24-25. Another source cited a larger number: 254 citizens were punished for “spreading rumors” in China on January 22-28.

On Feb 5, the Cyber ​​Administration of China (CAC) announced it would punish “websites, forums and accounts” for posting “harmful” and “spreading scare ” content related to the new disease.

CAC identifies companies that own most popular Chinese social networks named Weibo (Chinese-style Twitter and Facebook), Tencent (with messaging and social networking app WeChat) and ByteDance (with music video and social networking platform TikTok) and said it would take thematic examinations in these vendors’ forums.
Chinese video sharing site YY similar to Youtube has been censored by keywords.

CAC identifies the companies that own the three most popular Chinese social networks: Sina Weibo (with Chinese-style Twitter and Facebook), Tencent (with a private app messaging and social networks WeChat) and ByteDance (with music video and social networking platform TikTok) and said it would conduct “thematic tests” in the forums of these providers.

The Citizen Lab team tracks all the updates to YY’s censored keyword list since February 2015, saying: YY network censors by keywords, is updated daily, and can be changed to determine whether one of those keywords is in the message or exchange of users or not. If a word is on the moderation list, that message will not be sent.

The first censored words and phrases were all related to the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic. On the YY website, on December 31, 2019, the day after Dr. Li Wenliang and 7 others warned about the new disease, the YY network added 45 additional keywords (simplified and traditional Chinese) on blacklist, related to the words describing pneumonia, the location where the disease was spread, Wuhan local agencies or discussions about the similarities between the outbreak in Wuhan and SARS. Phrases related to how to control the disease, how to handle the disease in Hongkong, Taiwan, Macao, disease symptoms, information related to Dr. Li Wenliang, ect. are always strictly controlled most on this social network.

In addition, there are 192 censored keyword phrases related to senior leaders, as well as their role in translation management, of which 87% are related to President Xi Jinping.

The Citizen Lab team also found 138 keyword phrases related to government agencies and or government policies on translation management, of which 39% were critics’ comments, condemning the central and local governments as well as government agencies that have hid and handled badly.

WeChat messaging application with the largest market share in China market was censored from the server.

The WeChat network is censored on the server, which means that all the rules for conducting the censorship are on the remote server system.

When a WeChat user sends another message a censored keyword, the message is delivered to the server of Tencent Group (WeChat’s parent company), which detects if the message has whether or not to include blacklisted words, before sending them to the recipient.
According to the test results of the Citizen Lab team (conducted on January 1-15 from the University of Toronto network), WeChat censored an information if the message contained phrases, including one or more keywords in blacklist.

Citizen Lab’s team tested closed conversations from January 1 to February 15 and found 516 key phrases directly related to the censored Wuhan pneumonic plague, of which the number was censorship quadrupled in just the first two weeks of February, from 132 phrases to 516 phrases.

Some examples of censored phrases include “local government + disease + (central government) + concealment” and “Wuhan + clear + virus + human-to-human transmission.”

Overcoming fear, the Chinese have invented unique ways of censoring to spread truthful and accurate information in the community.

One of the contents that the Chinese government drastically prevents from spreading among people is an interview with Dr. Ai Fen, the chief of the emergency department of Wuhan Central Hospital, with Renwu newspaper on March 10.

The female doctor recounted how she shared with others in the WeChat group, including Dr. Li Wenliang, about a patient with pneumonia caused by a virus, like the corona virus that caused SARS.

To convey this interview, WeChat network users have used many ways such as deliberately typing misspellings, or adding emoticons. They even write back the interview or use morse notation.

Fans of sci-fi films translate into the language of aliens. For example, fans of Star Trek “translated” the entire article into klingon, the fictional language of the alien race of the same name.

Henry Gao, a Chinese trade law professor in Singapore, said: Internet users dare to talk more about topics at risk of censorship. Since January, many of them have used this method to transmit information, while before that, only democracy activists used this method.

Western researchers believe that the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic is provoking a stir in part of Chinese society, and that they have first launched an “online protest.” Obviously, this protest is spreading rapidly every day in the online community, causing the communist government to both fight against the epidemic and strengthen repression.

In Vietnam, since the appearance of Wuhan pneumonia disease, many Facebookers have been arrested by police, taken to police station, and fined millions of dong under the pretext of “giving false information.”

State media reported: According to statistics from the authorities, from the appearance of Wuhan pneumonia, to date, there have been nearly 300,000 articles on the cyberspace on websites, blogs, forums; nearly 600,000 news, articles and video clips related to the disease have been posted on social networks. There were a lot of news, articles with unverified content, distorting, false, attracting millions of comments and shares.

As of March 13, the police nationwide had summoned and interrogated 654 cases of reporting “false information,” imposing administrative fines on more than 146 people.

For spreading “false rumors,” violators will be fined VND7.5 million-VND30 million.
On Feb 3, the Government issued Decree No. 15/2020 (effective from April) on administrative sanctions in the field of post and telecommunications, radio frequencies to replace Decree 174 above. Under the new decree, individuals who make false or misrepresentative acts that cause consequences will be subject to a fine of VND20 million-VND30 million.

In addition, the new decree clearly states that if an individual violates this act many times, fails to comply with the commitment, posing a risk to society, he may be subject to criminal sanctions.

Local public opinion is very discontent with the above action and said that the government took advantage of the ignorance of the law and the fear of the people to exploit the money of people who are very difficult due to the disease.

Journalist Pham Doan Trang

Journalist Pham Doan Trang affirmed the wrongdoing of the communist government with an article titled “Posting incorrect news taken to police station: Dirty work of local authorities” on her personal Facebook account.

She wrote: On the aspect of the general principles of law, the work of the police is criminalizing or administrativeizing a civil activity. In a simple, easy-to-understand manner, the act of bringing citizens to the police station for interrogation, prosecution, and imposing fines is an act of disrespect and misery of the authorities when they take advantage of the ignorance and psychological fear of citizens to arrest, silence them, prevent the right to access to and the right to spread information, creating ignorance of people regarding the disease.

According to her, the state-controlled media, instead of carrying out the mission of discovering and voicing in front of injustices and wrongs in society, opposing the wrongdoings of the authorities but do other things such as cheering and praising the acts of “criminalizing” and “administrativeizing” civil activities.

She said that: In any case, the public is the judgment force, and an independent, impartial court is the final venue for the action of “reporting false,” “spreading rumors” of a journalist or Facebooker. In particular, the public is always the most competent person in assessing the prestige, talent, justice … of a journalist or Facebooker.

In a police-controlled state, stifling people’s freedom of speech and information, seriously violating basic human rights, each person should actively seek, share information and protect themselves before the pandemic as well as before the vicious tricks of the government.

The Wuhan pneumonia epidemic once again broke the face of a state led by the Communist Party, which used the police force to suppress the people, a state pursuing the survival of the Communist Party rather than working for the masses.

Thu Thuy from Hochiminh city – (Translated)