NEW YORK—The suspension of a feminist group’s social media accounts underscores China’s “zero tolerance” policy for free speech and human rights, said PEN America in a statement today.

On February 20, 2017, the Weibo account “Feminist Voices” was suspended for 30 days.  “Feminist Voices” is a media project of the Beijing-based NGO Media Monitor for Women Network, which works to promote gender equality and advocates on gender-based issues within the country. The organizers of “Feminist Voices” transferred their information to another Weibo account, “Fairness for Women,” but that account was shut down the next day. Weibo is a Chinese social media platform that is roughly equivalent to Twitter, with 297 million monthly active users.

The suspension is believed to be the result of a Feminist Voices post discussing the planned “women’s strike” in Washington D.C., on March 8 (International Woman’s Day). Feminist Voices had posted an article about the women’s strike on February 14. The post was censored, and their account was suspended days later. In informing Feminist Voices of the suspension, social media company Sina, which operates Weibo, sent a notice saying that the group’s posted content “violates national laws and regulations,” without further explanation. Women’s rights advocates responding to the suspension have reportedly said that the order to suspend Feminist Voices’ account came from the Cyberspace Administration, a government regulatory body.

Chinese authorities maintain a strict system of censorship over all online speech and information. Under Chinese laws and regulations, social media companies are expected to censor their users’ posts or face harsh punishments themselves, including the shutdown of their company. Censorship guidelines include “refraining from producing, posting or disseminating pernicious information that may jeopardize state security and disrupt social stability…” or “spread superstition and obscenity.”

“The suspension of a feminist group’s social media account is inherently troubling. What is even more troubling is the likelihood that Feminist Voices was suspended for discussing the women’s strike in Washington D.C. If this was indeed the reason, it demonstrates that the Chinese government sees even expressions of international solidarity with demonstrations elsewhere in the world as potentially threatening,” said James Tager, PEN America’s Free Expression Programs Manager. “PEN America calls upon the Chinese government to recognize the right of all its citizens to speak out in solidarity with others around the world, without fear that their words will be censored.”

PEN America, the literary and free expression advocacy organization, has long been engaged on advocacy against censorship in China, and for the rights of individual Chinese writers who have been imprisoned for their free expression. PEN America’s recent work on China includes its October 2016 report “Darkened Screen,” on Chinese governmental restrictions on foreign media. On January 24, 2017, PEN America re-examined the 2015 case of “The Feminist Five”, the detention of five Chinese feminist activists and the resulting domestic and international outcry.

###

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Sarah Edkins, Director of Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1.646.779.4830