Liu Xiaobo

News filters through despite censorship

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 October, 2010, 12:00am

News that Liu Xiaobo had won the Nobel Peace Prize made its way to ordinary mainlanders via the internet and telephone text messages despite government efforts to censor the news.

State-owned China Central Television's flagship 7pm news broadcast made no mention of the Nobel Peace Prize award, a change from the programme's policy in preceding days of announcing other Nobel winners among the day's top headlines.

There was also no mention of Liu's win on the main homepage of Xinhua, the mainland's official news service.

The only references to the Nobel Prizes on the site's opening page referred to the literature award, while a search of the website only brought up a short report about a foreign ministry spokesman denouncing Liu's selection - filed under international news.

Most other mainland news portals followed suit, with popular sites including Sina and NetEase deleting pages dedicated to stories related to the five Nobel Prizes.

In Guangdong, the signal for the 6pm evening news broadcast of TVB, the Hong Kong-based television station, was blocked for approximately eight minutes, removing any mention of the Nobel Peace Prize.

But internet-savvy mainlanders were not prepared to bow to official attempts to smother reports about what many saw as a slap in the face for the ruling Communist Party.

Online forums and Twitter - the latter accessible only to those able to get round the mainland's internet firewall - burst into life with a blaze of comments about the peace prize, just moments after it was announced at 5pm local time.

Posts and photographs of Liu appeared on Sina's microblog, but were removed within minutes.

'This definitely won't get reported this time,' wrote one internet user. 'But it's such a big award, if it isn't reported surely that will just make the mainland public curious about just who won this year's peace prize?'

The majority of comments on mainland sites appeared supportive of Liu and his fight for democracy, though some decried the award as external interference in China's affairs. Many others expressed bewilderment, questioning why they had never heard of Liu or the Charter 08 movement.

There appeared to be a blanket nationwide ban on sending text messages containing Liu's name, either in Chinese characters or in pinyin romanisation - something numerous internet users turned into a source of ironic mockery.

'Any text message mentioning Liu Xiaobo's name fails to send,' said one. 'That's just so funny.

'Like me you'll just have to phone people instead.'

But overall, censors appeared relatively slow off the mark, and seemed to be taking a sporadic approach to suppressing the news.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, Google and Baidu - the mainland's two most popular search engines - occasionally blocked searches for Liu's name or the peace prize, in both Chinese and English, but more often allowed access to information.

Most overseas and Hong Kong-based news sites covering the story could be opened without difficulty.

The Nobel Foundation's website - which broadcast a live news feed of the announcement - remained freely accessible from mainland-based computers, without the need to bypass the Great Firewall.

A page on the Nobel Foundation's website announcing Liu had been awarded the prize 'for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China' was inundated with messages of congratulations, many purporting to be from internet users in mainland China.

'In the future, you will be China's [Nelson] Mandela. We are proud of you,' wrote one anonymous commentator in Chinese.

One, identified as simply 'a Chinese citizen', wrote in English: 'I was astonished for not knowing the existence of this man as a Chinese. What a shameful evidence of Chinese people having no human rights.'

State of the nation

CHARTER 08 calls for

Law to define government responsibility and personal freedom

Freedom of speech, freedom of the press and academic freedom

Peaceful assembly, demonstration, protest and freedom of expression

No governmental interference in peaceful religious activities

The right to form citizens' groups

Constitution of the People's Republic of China guarantees

All power in the People's Republic of China belongs to the people

Freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration

Freedom of religious belief

The right to criticise and make suggestions to any state organ or functionary

The right of citizens to own lawfully earned income, savings, houses and other lawful property

Quotes from premier Wen Jiabao in a recent CNN interview

The people's wishes for, and needs for, democracy and freedom are irresistible

A political party, after becoming the ruling party, 'should act according to the constitution and law'

It is important to create 'conditions for them to criticise the government'

Freedom of speech is 'indispensable to any country'