Chinese police formally arrested renowned blogger Ran Yunfei Monday on subversion charges for his alleged role in organizing pro-democracy uprisings in China.
Ran is just one of the roughly 100 activists – many of whom are active on blogging sites and Twitter – that have been detained, subjected to intimidation and heavy surveillance by Chinese police or have gone missing since late February.
“Basically, it’s the crime of expressing your opinions,” said Wang Yi – a former legal scholar, fellow Internet activist and friend of Ran – in an interview with Reuters. “In this case, too, the prosecutors will probably use essays that Ran has published on the Internet.”
Police in Chengdu detained Ran on February 20 as the undulating unrest consuming the Middle East generated online calls for a similar “Jasmine Revolution” in China, according to Reuters.
However, it wasn’t until last Monday that Ran’s family received the official arrest notice.
A 46-year-old blogger, magazine editor and writer from the Sichuan province, Ran maintained a viable online presence in China for more than a decade. Although his court case is not for another two months, Ran’s formal charges allow Chinese authorities to hold him without bail.
Many hoped the seemingly viral pro-democracy movement from the Middle East would spread to China.
But the Chinese government was not taking any chances.
A number of prominent Chinese pro-democracy writers have either been silenced or round up under similar subversion charges lately in an effort to prevent a pro-democracy movement from catching fire.
Chinese democracy advocate Liu Xianbin was sentenced to ten years in prison last Friday after writing a series of articles calling for democratic reforms; the sentence marked the third time Liu had been sent to jail for his activism.
“The government on the one hand prevents freedom of the press and disallows the free flow of information, and on the other hand … conceals the truth,” Ran wrote on his Twitter account on Feb 14. “It’s no wonder that rumors are prevalent under these circumstances.”
In fact, disagreeing with the Chinese government can translate to a death wish.
According to a report by Amnesty International, China sentenced more people to death than any other country in the world last year.
Although the exact number of executions in China is kept secret, AI estimated that China executed thousands of people in 2010 for ”a wide range of crimes that include nonviolent offenses and after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards.”
True, it is unlikely that Ran will be executed for his blog posts. But the recent crackdown on protests, coupled with the totalitarian practices seen in China, are concerning to say the least.
The true question is not whether the Chinese government can maintain this level of censorship, but for how much longer?
As the Internet continues to shrink the world and aggregate different ideas under one browser, censorship practices such as those seen in China will become increasingly less popular and harder to enforce.