Internet for Communication or Persecution?
Mary Mee-Yin Yuen (Hong Kong)
The invention of internet and smart phone affects tremendously our daily lives, especially to those who live in city. Many internet users see the internet as a global community without borders, a space for free exchange of ideas and dissemination of news or information. Whereas many others think that internet will make entertainment and shopping much more convenient, thus, a chance of expansion of mobile e-commerce and market expansion of online shopping.
China owns the world’s largest online citizenry — about 668 million strong, with most of them using smart phone. The total internet penetration rate was 48.8 per cent across mainland China, according to the official China Internet Network Information Centre. As in the rest of the world, young people account for a majority of internet users. People between ten and thirty years of age make up 55.2 percent of the online population in China.
However, China has been criticized for its strict internet regulations where it blocks major sites and censors posts. Not only do Chinese technological companies spend huge amount in developing an all-encompassing network of monitoring, thus, restricting Chinese people from accessing certain websites, including facebook and many Church organizations. It is not uncommon that some sensitive words, such as June 4 or human rights fail to appear. Moreover, posts on internet have been used as tools and evidence to persecute dissidents. In a nationwide crackdown on online rumours launched in the summer of 2013, hundreds of internet users were punished and some detained for disseminating “rumours” on the internet. Several influential online bloggers were convicted on various charges, including “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, which effectively silenced many others.
One recent example is the arrest and detention of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang who has been charged with “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” by writing microblog (or weibo), commentaries critical of the Communist Party. Pu was arrested and detained for 19 months, before he was put to trial in court in mid-December 2015. He faces a maximum sentence of eight years. Pu’s ordeal is widely seen as a political case to silence him and to warn other rights advocates against speaking up. Pu’s associates say his sharp criticisms of the government, his representations of many high-profile rights cases (including artist Ai Weiwei), his advocacy of scrapping the country’s labour camp system, and his popularity in the Chinese media has rendered him a threat in the eyes of the authorities.
It is ironic that in more or less the same time of Pu’s trial, a World Internet Conference sponsored by Beijing was held in Zhejiang province of China. Guests from various countries, including the head of facebook were invited. Speaking at the conference, China’s President Xi Jinping has called on countries to respect one another’s “cyber sovereignty” and different internet governance models. Mr Xi said countries had the right to choose how to develop and regulate their internet.
In the view of the above, it reminds me that the Church has a two-fold aim in regard to the media. One aspect is to encourage their right development and right use for the sake of human development, justice, and peace—for the upbuilding of society at the local, national, and community levels in light of the common good and in a spirit of solidarity. Thus, the Church seeks honest and respectful dialogue with those responsible for the communications media—a dialogue that relates primarily to the shaping of media policy. In this way, it becomes possible for the Church to offer meaningful proposals for removing obstacles to human progress and the proclamation of the Gospel. Besides, the Church’s concern also relates to communication in and by the Church herself. Communication is of the essence of the Church. The Church’s practice of communication should be exemplary, reflecting the highest standards of truthfulness, accountability, sensitivity to human rights, and other relevant principles and norms. (see Pontifical Council for Social Communications, “The Church and Internet,” no.3)
Therefore, internet should be used as a means to promote communication and human development rather than a tool to regulate people’ ideas and thought. Internet should never be twisted as an instrument to persecute those who advocate human rights and help the marginalized to seek for justice.