On Valentine's Day UK time. I went on the BBC World Service Radio show "Have Your Say," to discuss Censorship in China. One of the participant named "Tian" was from China. He owns the blog "Beijing or Bust," He is also one of the Editors in the Harvard based Global Voices. His real name is Hao Wu. He was arrested a week later. On the show he said he was interviewing political dissidents, and that is why RSF thinks he was arrested.
I am totally in shock at the moment, so very upset. I thought he was very intelligent, and articulate. I even mused on the blog, that he might not be saying everything he believed in because he might not want the authorities after him... I think he was being careful already, he never said he believed in free speech, he didn't say anything that was anti the communist government, but he did say something about the project he was working on. Which goes to show, under a totalitarian regime, you never know what one says may interest the authorities.
Please help him. Put up the banner. Write it on the blog. Just let people know.
Reporters Without Borders wrote to President Hu Jintao today asking him to intervene on behalf of documentary filmmaker Hao Wu, who was arrested in Beijing on 22 February after attending a meeting of members of a protestant church not recognised by the government as part of the preparation of his next documentary.
Hao, who lived for more than 10 years in the United States, is a contributor to Global Voices (http://www.globalvoicesonline
"Hao's only crime has been to do his job as journalist in an independent manner," Reporters Without Borders said in its letter to President Hu. The organisation also called on US diplomats to raise Hao's case with the Chinese authorities, above all as part of the preparations for Hu's visit to the United States next month.
Hao was detained by the Beijing division of the State Security Bureau, which has officially confirmed his arrest. Two days after his arrest, police raided his home, seizing videotapes and editing equipment. He has not been charges and the authorities have not explained why they are holding him. Global Voices said they authorities could be trying to get him to provide information about China's underground protestant churches.
Hao's family, which appears to be in contact with him, initially refused to publicise his arrest, hoping that he would be freed quickly. This is why the news of his arrest has taken a month to emerge.
In a blog called Beijing or Bust (http://beijingorbust.blogspot
Global Voices has set up a support site for Hao: http://ethanzuckerman.com/haowu
Here is partial transcript of the show:
BBC news – ‘Have your say’. 14th Feb. 2006 “Censorship in China”
Presenter: …Today we discuss about how censorship in China affect people’s everyday lives…….
Participants : Tian, a Chinese film maker in Beijing, Yan in Hong Kong, Brian, a lawyer in Shanghai and Chris living in Shanghai, Mike a Canadian in Beijing, and Natasha, French, who lives in China for over a decade.
Brian: From a personal basis, I don’t think that censorship in China affects my life. I log on the web all the time and if I can’t get things in google, I can get it somewhere else.
Chris: (now living in Dubai)…When I lived in China as a foreigner, censorship did not affect my life a great deal, as living in apartments where you can get ready access to foreign TV. Foreigners do not read or speak Chinese so they get their outside news in CNN or BBC.
Tian: To a certain extent, yes, it affected my life as I am a blogger and I need access to my blog and if I can’t get to the blogs, I use a proxy which means you hop on to a third site… and then go on to BBC or other destination sites. If people know how to configurate the proxy sites, then one can go to the sites blocked by government. For me it is a minor irritation but for other people in China, they don’t know how to use them.
Yan: Personally, I live in Hong Kong and we have free speech. My site was banned in China a year ago and I feel that I am the person with something to say and more greatly that it saddened me is that what I have to say didn’t seem inappropriate to a billion people by a government which is not elected..
Brian: Personally I don’t think so. I agree with the previous comment about satellite and I have satellite too and quite a lot of us see foreign media regularly and CNN is just a button away. I may be apolitical but I don’t think not having access to certain sites really dampens living in China nor that I can’t search for information in some other way. We can find ways and means to get the information we want.
Tian: I think a lot of time we talk about censorship, the biggest censor may be the language barrier. If you speak English, I think you can access 99 per cent of the contents on the site except perhaps the site on fa lun kung etc. People in China can access CNN.com or other news website. Secondly, on a day to day basis, people are very busy, making a living or trying to improve their livelihood. I don’t see many of them being frustrated by government censorship.
Presenter: Yan Sham, of the four of you, you sound the most frustrated about censorship and all four have demonstrated that it is quite possible to get round the rules if you know what you are doing. So how serious in effect does censorship really have in life in China..
Yan: First foreigners have satellite, Chinese people do not. You have to have a certain level of tech savvy and intelligence, not intelligence but knowledge to get on the proxy to tune to the BCC and to speak perfect English. He is not a normal Chinese person, he is exceptional. We are not talking about people who are not average who are not affected. And the second issue is that censorship is not about minor irritations and to foreigners they may be apolitical, it doesn’t matter but if you have a political point you can be put in jail so those are not minor considerations that people are under house arrests or spend 8 years in jail and the issue is not does it bug me or is my life difficult, the issue is China does not have free speech.
Presenter: ……. Listen to Natasha who is a business person and have lived in China for more than a decade and have now called Shanghai home.
Natasha: …… No problem accessing international information but with topics like the 3 T- Taiwan, Tibet and Tianman, people can talk about them in the streets but on TV, there may sometimes be complaints.
Presenter: Have you ever been on the internet to get some information and found that you are not allowed to.
Natasha: Yes, definitely. As a private account, I cannot access CNN.com …..some diplomatic information I can’t get access to, I used to get it a few years ago but not now……I don’t know……….
Presenter: Do you think the letter calling for ending all censorship will make a difference in your life.
Natasha: I am not aware of what you are talking about. Chinese government in one way filter information but on my daily life, I am doing business not politics in China, I am just neutral. On my daily life, from the business point of view, I don’t see any influence at all. I can’t see the whole consequence of what you are talking about and I don’t see any threats to my business.
Presenter: I just want a one word answer from you, before ‘have your say’ programme contacted you, did you know about this letter from the former senior officials of the communist party.
Tian: No I didn’t.
Presenter: Brian, do you think it will make any difference. Lets be clear about who has written this letter; Chairman Mao former Secretary , the former editor of the communist party’s mouthpiece, the People’s daily and the ex propaganda boss and these are serious officials and do you think it will make a difference.
Brian: I don’t think so. For foreigners living in China, it won’t make much difference as they are exposed to the outside anyway and living here you will find ways and means to continue that exposure. But for Chinese people who have no such exposure it would be a milestone for the government to take the step as a lot of people are not so well informed about what happened in the world, and I am not too sure unadulterated, clean and complete access to anything in the world is a good thing for 1.3 billion people who hadn’t had it all their lives.
Tian: When I read the letter, I doubt it as these people are no longer in power and the letter do not in any way reflect the government’s view. I doubt if there will be any influence and the only way that this letter can get around is through the foreign media and I am sure that in China the government will suppress any reporting of the open letter.
Presenter: Yan, what about you in Hong Kong, do you think this will have an effect on you ability to put what you want to write on your blog and have it read in China.
Yan: I don’t think it will change completely, the only thing that could help is that we are talking about it right now in the Western media and hopefully it will put pressure of some kind back to China and to the American companies like ( ) which is actually building? some deals? in China.
Presenter: Tian, let me come back to the point you made. You said this story could be covered outside of China and it is fairly unlikely to be known to normal Chinese people going about their day to day life. But just tell me aside from this letter, is censorship a topic you hear discussed when you go to cafes, restaurants and taking public transport.
Tian: The documentary I am doing now is on a sensitive subject and I do get to talk to a small group in Beijing who are very concerned about press freedom and human rights and a lot of political topics so for these groups of people, censorship is a big big issue so I sympathize with them and feel for them . Also in my own work I have to hide from the authorities and I do feel that censorship is a big issue in this regard. However for the majority of people I bump into or I know in Beijing including my family, censorship is not a big issue. They have their own business circles and they have their own corporate jobs so for them internet has given them and exposing them to information to help them to improve their livelihood. So a lot of time we are talking about censorship, we are talking about which group of people we are talking with. If you are talking with the political dissidents, this is a big issue, but if you are talking with an average Chinese, I don’t think so.
Presenter: Brian you are a lawyer, when you go about your work, talking to clients or people in the office, is censorship mentioned?
Brian: In short no. Most of the people accept that doing business in China, foreigners and international companies are aware that doing business in China is different from doing business in other locations. People learn to accept that and for me I have been in this market for 5 years and see things improving year after year. I think people have in mind that it will improve, it will get there but when it will get there will be determined by the Chinese authorities rather than by foreigners or foreign authorities imposing time table on the Chinese.
Presenter: Chris, you are from the UK and live in Shanghai. Do you think this is something which the west is obsessed about censorship in China, but for people who live there, it is a long way down their lists of important issues in their lives.
Chris: I think this is a fair point. People who lives in large cities, Beijing and Shanghai and from my experience, Guangzhou, Chinese who are able to access media may be from outside certainly are aware of the issues and they understand some of the sensitive points in the way China has been run, such as the lack of democratic choice and these things. People are aware of that and after years of this, people come to accept it although not entirely comfortable with that. But people have priorities and like improving their standard of living and going about their other business.
Presenter: question for Chris and Brian……By accepting that this is a different place to do business, by not challenging censorship, does it not make it harder for Chinese people to have freedom of speech.
Yan: Yes, (laughs)
Presenter: Yan sham, you clearly think so.
Yan: Yes, of course. Spending time talking about this, does it bug you, is this an issue, and there are other things more important, I understand that for most people, this is not a priority but for people who have everything compared to people in China, we should have high ideals and western companies are bringing their money but they don’t care and companies like yahoo or google, there is no way of improving anything. People in China have their priorities but Western people have created this idea of freedom of expression and we should be the one who help others get it.