03 June, 2009

Chinese web users demonstrate their strength

And who will prevail? The denial of freedom all the more makes the people want to be free – with technology's aid…

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Time is GMT + 8 hours

Posted: 3-Jun-2009 11:38 hrs

File photo shows workers using their computers in a coffee shop in Chengdu, in China's Sichuan Province. Chinese web users are claiming a temporary victory against censorship after taking up the case of a young woman accused of murdering a local official who she says tried to force himself on her.

Chinese web users are claiming a temporary victory against censorship after taking up the case of a young woman accused of murdering a local official who she says tried to force himself on her.

In what has rapidly become the hottest topic on the Internet, chat room users and blogs have lionised 22-year-old Deng Yuqiao as a heroine for fighting back against what they say is China's over-bearing and corrupt bureaucracy.

In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the web, which is much less rigorously controlled than traditional media, has been abuzz with a different David and Goliath tale.

Three weeks ago, Deng, an employee of a hotel sauna in the city of Baodong in the central province of Hubei, stabbed a local official to death with a kitchen knife.

She handed herself in to police, telling officers she had been fighting off a man who was determined to force himself on her sexually.

However, she was quickly accused of murder -- an offence punishable by death in China.

Web users soon latched on to the story, which struck a chord with many in this authoritarian nation -- a corrupt local cadre who assumed he could get what he wanted because of his position, and the young employee who dared to fight back.

Saunas are often used as fronts for brothels in China, although it was unclear if the business Deng worked for belonged in that category.

After writing about the story, well-known blogger Tu Fu, known as the "Bandit that chases the wind" went to the hospital where Deng had been admitted after the incident to be treated for injuries she says she received when her "victim" repeatedly hit her for refusing his advances.

Support groups emerged and lawyers were mobilised, as the case became the symbol of injustice in a society tightly controlled by the communist party.

"It is a reflection of conflicts that have long existed between the people and civil servants," Ba Zhongwei, one of those in charge of a Deng support group, told AFP.

"Authorities are used to hiding the facts to defend their own interests, this time people suspect police and local authorities of doing the same thing. And people think it could happen to them too."

Students in Beijing also put on an art performance with the title "We are all Deng Yuqiao."

Police, quoted Monday by state media, reacted by saying the young woman had used "excessive force" to defend herself.

But despite the police's stance, Deng was last week released from the jail in which she had been held and was allowed to go back to her mother's house, where she now lives under house arrest.

The two officials alleged to have been the victim's accomplices have been dismissed from their posts.

The case highlights the growing might of the Internet in a nation where traditional media is often tightly controlled and the legal system has little or no independence from the government.

"China currently has 300 million netizens. Traditional media is the mouthpiece of governments, whereas the Internet speaks for the people," said Hu Xingdou, an academic specialising in social issues in China.

"It allows people to let go, it is a tool to express oneself and to call for justice," said Hu, who is a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology.

But as June 4 -- the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown on pro-democracy protests that killed hundreds and possibly thousands -- approaches, the communist regime has looked on this surge of criticism with growing disquiet, concerned about stability.

The blog of the "Bandit that chases the wind" has been closed down and traditional media that had reported the issue appeared to have been given orders to tone down their coverage.

"We have noticed that chat forums have been closed, maybe because authorities fear that as it's soon June 4, a sensitive date, it will become an element of instability," said Ba.

In another sign of growing jitters, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said this week that a dozen websites such as Twitter, YouTube, Bing, Flickr, Opera, Live, Wordpress and Blogger had been blocked in China.

Ba promised however that Internet users would follow the sauna worker case and would "keep watch on local authorities to see what will be their next step." — AFP

From TODAYOnline.com; see the source article here.


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