Protesters yesterday gathered at the Guangzhou headquarters of a Chinese newspaper at the center of a censorship row, in a rare demonstration of public support for media freedom in the country, with both the Taiwanese government and the leaders of a student movement against Chinese influence in local media closely watching the developments.
Hundreds of people, including students and white-collar workers, gathered outside the Southern Weekly’s office, holding signs and shouting slogans calling for freedom of speech, political reform, constitutional governance and democracy.
The demonstration came after censors on Thursday last week blocked a New Year article in the popular liberal newspaper calling for the realization of a “dream of constitutionalism in China” to protect people’s rights.
“I feel that the ordinary people must awaken,” one of the protesters, Yuan Fengchu, said by telephone. “The people are starting to realize that their rights have been taken away by the Communist Party and they are feeling that they are constantly oppressed.”
Another protester, Guangzhou writer and activist Wu Wei (吳偉), who goes by the pen name Ye Du (野渡), said the protest marked a rare instance in which Chinese were making overt calls for political freedom since large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations were crushed in a military crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
“In other cities, we’ve seen people march, but most of the time they are protesting environmental pollution or people’s livelihood issues,” Wu said. “Here, they are asking for political rights, the right to protest. The Southern Weekly incident has provided an opportunity for citizens to voice their desires.”
Last week’s act of censorship caused journalists and their supporters, including students at nearby Sun Yat-sen University, to write open letters expressing their outrage.
“Our yielding and our silence have not brought a return of our freedom,” Hong Kong University’s China Media Project quoted the students as saying in their petition on Sunday. “Quite the opposite, it has brought the untempered intrusion and infiltration of rights by [government] power.”
The protests had turned into a real-time melee in the blogosphere on Sunday. The newspaper’s economics and environmental news staff appeared to say they were on strike, while editors loyal to the government shut down or took control of the paper’s official microblogs. One widely distributed staff declaration with 90 signatures said the publication’s microblogs were no longer authentic.
Searches for “Southern Weekly” on one popular microblogging site were blocked yesterday.
The crackdown on freedom of expression comes despite pledges of change from the new Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership, headed by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), which has promised a more open style of governance since the party congress in November.
A Chinese-language editorial in the state-run Global Times, which has links to the CCP, said China was determined to maintain the status quo when it came to the media.
“No matter whether these people [angered by the censorship] are happy or not, common sense says it is impossible to have the kind of ‘free media’ they dream of under China’s social and political systems today,” it said. “The media will by no means become a ‘political special area’ in China.”
The media would “undoubtedly be a loser” if it sought to fight the government, it said.
The commentary did not run in the paper’s English-language edition.
The editiorial followed an open letter from Southern Weekly staff which — in an unusually vocal response to authorities’ censorship — called for the resignation of Guangdong provincial propaganda official Tuo Zhen (庹震), who was said to have removed the weekly’s article and replaced it with a different version.
Eighteen Chinese academics, including legal professors, economists, historians and writers, have also signed an open letter calling for Tuo’s dismissal. Peking University law professor He Weifang (賀衛方), who was among the signers, said the newspaper needed to be defended from censorship.
“The Southern Weekly is known as a newspaper that exposes the truth, but after Tuo Zhen arrived in Guangdong, he constantly put pressure on the paper. We need to let him know that he can’t do this,” He said. “This incident is a test to see if the new leadership is determined to push trhough political reforms.”
Yesterday’s protests also took on a Taiwanese element, with calls for the singing of a song that decades ago served as a clarion call for the democratic movement in Taiwan.
According to posts on microblogging site Sina Weibo, organizers have invited supporters to gather at Guangzhou Parkway at noon tomorrow to show their support by singing the song Beautiful Island (美麗島), one of the key inspirational songs used by the pro-democracy movement in Taiwan during authoritarian rule.
The Chinese authorities prohibited the song in 1980.
Taiwanese youths were also paying attention to what was happening in Guangzhou.
Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), one of the student leaders in the recent wave of Taiwanese protests against the monopolization of and growing Chinese influence in local media, told the Taipei Times that the movement was closely watching developments surrounding the Southern Weekly incident.
Lin said that although there was no direct link between the student those who signed the petition at the Chinese universities on Sunday, he hoped that both sides could inspire and learn from each other.
“No matter what, the movements from both sides will serve as an inspiration for one another,” he said.
Lin also said the Chinese had an interest in ensuring that freedoms in Taiwan were not undermined by Beijing’s influence.
“Although Taiwan enjoys freedom of the press and democracy, they are weakening at the moment. As they fight for their own freedom, Chinese students should seek to prevent this from occurring in Taiwan,” he said.
“Chinese students are very brave in fighting despite being under very strict government control,” he said, adding that state control over the media and limits to freedom were much more stringent in China.
Lin said he hoped that Chinese would continue to fight for their rights and that people who desire freedom would unite.
“Taiwanese students will support them, always,” he said.
Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said the council was paying attention to the issue of press freedom in China and had invited Chinese journalists to visit Taiwan, adding that the council hoped they would be influenced by the country’s freedoms.
Additional reporting by Shelley Shan
NEXT STEP? The contract chipmaker said it would decide whether to add more plants based on operation efficiency, cost economics and demand Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) is planning to build several more chipmaking fabs in the US state of Arizona beyond the one already planned, three people familiar with the matter said. TSMC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker, announced in May last year that it would build a US$12 billion fab in Arizona. The 12-inch wafer fab in Phoenix is expected to start mass production in 2024, the Investment Commission said in December, when it approved the plan. Three sources familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that up
VIRUS CURBS: Visiting people staying at healthcare and long-term care facilities in Taipei, New Taipei City and Taoyuan is banned until May 17, the CECC announced The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday banned visits to patients or residents at healthcare and long-term care facilities in three cities until May 17. It also reported six imported cases of COVID-19 and two cases with unclear infection sources. As the number of locally transmitted cases rises, some of whom have visited many places in Taipei, New Taipei City and Taoyuan, enhanced disease prevention measures have to be implemented in the three cities, said Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center. “Visiting people staying at healthcare and long-term care facilities in Taipei, New Taipei City and
TAKING NOTICE: In the first time that G7 foreign ministers have mentioned Taiwan in a joint communique, they called for ‘peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait’ The Presidential Office yesterday thanked the G7 foreign ministers for their strong support of Taiwan after the group in its joint statement on Wednesday called for the nation’s participation in the WHO, and the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. The ministers in a communique issued at the end of their three-day meeting declared support for “Taiwan’s meaningful participation” in WHO forums and the World Health Assembly (WHA). “The international community should be able to benefit from the experience of all partners, including Taiwan’s successful contribution to the tackling of the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said. The statement included a section
UP TO TWO DAYS: Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung said that most who got the shot and felt discomfort only felt ill for the first two days Employees can ask for unpaid COVID-19 vaccination leave, from the day of their shot until the end of the next day, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced yesterday, adding that the policy takes effect immediately. “The policy of unpaid COVID-19 vaccination leave will be implemented starting on May 5, and all workers and civil servants will be eligible,” Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, told a news conference. Leave can be taken on the day of vaccination and if recipients feel discomfort after getting the shot, they can extend the leave to all of the