Chinese Communist Party’s relentless suppression of cyber dissidents continues
November 4, 2019, marks the 17th anniversary of the arrest of People’s Republic of China (PRC) dissident and activist He Depu, who signed an open letter with nearly 200 others to the 16th Party Congress calling for political reforms. He remains a martyr of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) enduring campaign against dissidents and censorship of expression and speech on the internet.
In 2003, a year after his arrest, He was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” for posting essays on the internet and served an eight-year term at the Beijing No. 2 Prison, where he endured torture, according to Reporters Without Borders.
In the November 2002 open letter, He and 191 other dissidents called for reassessing the 1989 Democracy Movement, releasing all prisoners of conscience and ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among their top priorities, according to the Human Rights in China (HRIC) website, hrichina.org. (Pictured: Human rights activists stand next to a banner before a Hong Kong demonstration on March 5, 2004, to demand the release of Chinese dissidents, including He Depu and Du Daobin, arrested in November 2004 for allegedly posting subversive messages on the internet. The banner reads: “Release He Depu, Du Daobin and other dissidents.”)
He ranks among the PRC’s most notable political prisoners. In addition to participating in the democracy movements, including the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, he helped form the China Democracy Party (CDP) in 1998, which was immediately banned by the CCP for fear the Chinese government could not control it, analysts said. Soon thereafter, the CCP detained, arrested and sentenced hundreds of CDP members, and at least four other prominent signers of the open letter have also been tried for subversion, according to Reporters Without Borders.
In 1998, the CCP launched its Golden Shield program to supplant traditional censorship. The vast security management system strives to integrate an extensive online database with an all-encompassing surveillance network that uses speech and face recognition, closed-circuit television, credit records and various internet surveillance technologies. The so-called Great Firewall, a massive regime to restrict internet content and use, is part of Golden Shield. The program ensures that China has the least online freedom of 65 countries tracked by Freedom House, a rights group, according to its website. The CCP also seeks to extend its censorship abroad by exporting its surveillance and internet monitoring technologies and leveraging its influence to silence dissident views outside its borders.
The CCP’s suppression of He didn’t end with his prison term. On his release in January 2011, He “was beaten by four police officers when he resisted being shoved into a police vehicle. He was injured in the neck and hands, according to an eyewitness,” HRIC reported.
“The beating of He Depu took place just moments after he completed his eight-year prison term for writing essays and open letters — that is, for exercising his right to freedom of expression that is protected by the Chinese Constitution,” said Sharon Hom, HRIC executive director. “That police officers so openly and flagrantly abused a freed person is the latest indication of the worsening human rights situation in China.”
Seventeen years after He’s arrest, the CCP only seems to be stepping up its censorship of citizens on the internet and elsewhere. In late July 2019, for example, the Mianyang Intermediate People’s Court convicted Huang Qi of “illegally providing state secrets abroad” and “intentionally leaking secrets.” The CCP court then sentenced Huang to 12 years in prison and stripped him of his political rights for four years, HRIC reported, for allegedly posting from a “local political legal committee report that documented crackdowns against a petitioner.”
Huang founded a website in 1998 called 64 Tianwang (64tianwang.com) to assist individuals in finding missing relatives and advocate for vulnerable groups such as trafficking victims. The PRC has blocked his website in China since March 2003, Radio Free Asia reported. CCP authorities have confined Huang to the Mianyang detention center since his arrest November 2016. The webmaster was imprisoned twice before and served eight years previously, during which time he was beaten and developed health problems, including fluid in the brain, rheumatic heart disease and chronic renal failure, HRIC reported.
“In another predictable but outrageous blow for peaceful exercise of rights, the Intermediate Court decision highlights what China means by ‘rule of law,’” HRIC’s Sharon Hom said. “It means using the law to punish, silence and subject Chinese citizens to abuse and torture for trying to expose and address serious social problems.”