To maintain the privileges of vested interests, China has created a “stability maintenance system” that extends official control over society and represses civil rights. The main feature of this system, which operates according to the principle “stability overrides everything, and everything must be subordinate to stability,” is that it turns all citizens into imaginary enemies. It monitors, shuts down, and represses anything that might threaten the Communist Party’s dictatorship and its control of ideology, speech, news and facts.

For the Chinese people, the Internet is the main battlefield to pursue free speech and free expression. The spread of Chinese-language Twitter, microblogs, and other social media presents a real challenge to this extremely authoritarian system, providing the most important platform for a civil rights movement. Authorities therefore use the following methods to control the Internet and limit the dissemination of opinions:

1. The notorious “Great Firewall of China,” the major tool used to strengthen control of the Internet, blocks all outside sources of information on human rights, freedom and democracy. All new Western social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, are blocked in China.

2. A coercive self-censorship system, a key part of the most restrictive Internet control system in the world, forces online news media to censor themselves. News publishers know if they violate the rules they will be punished, banned, or shut down, so they censor themselves—or like Google, which pulled out of the Chinese market at the beginning of 2010, effectively shut themselves down.

3. An army of government-employed human enforcers inspect and control the Internet. Large numbers of Internet police and paid Internet commentators (the so-called “Fifty Cent Party”) scrutinize opinions and threaten and prevent netizens from exercising freedom of expression. Thanks to this and the “real-name registration system,” peaceful writers are arrested and detained for merely expressing their
opinions on the Internet.

The website of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre has been blocked by the Great Firewall since the site launched in October 2006, and it has suffered repeated cyber-attacks as well, especially during what the government considers to be “sensitive periods” around October 1, June 4 anniversary, before and after Liu Xiaobo’s sentencing, and during the National People’s Congress.

This suppression of the ICPC’s website is the work of the Internet police, enacting their duty to “preserve stability.” And yet our readers, are for the most part, Chinese. Through Google Analytics, I know there are visitors from over 100 countries, but most are from mainland China. They have found ways to cross the Great Firewall to come to our site. On October 8, 2010, on the day Liu Xiaobo was announced as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the number of visitors to our site increased fivefold.

China’s stability maintenance system went into overdrive in February 2011. Fearing that the Jasmine Revolutions in North Africa would spread to China, the regime launched a brutal nationwide crackdown to maintain order. The whole country fell into a new red terror; it was the largest crackdown on Chinese intellectuals since Mao’s Cultural Revolution in 1976. Hundreds of writers, journalists, and lawyers were subjected to surveillance, placed under house arrest, detained, kidnapped, arrested, or disappeared. Many of those who were secretly detained suffered ill treatment that included beatings, sleep deprivation, brainwashing, and threats, and many suffered emotional and physical torture. I myself was held and tortured for several days for round-the-clock interrogation and was not allowed to sleep. They forced me to admit that my published articles were “crimes.”

When the police raided my home, they took away my computers, laptops, videos and DVDs, CDs, all of my files and documents—some of which were PEN or ICPC documents. I had been at the Tokyo PEN Congress in September 2010, and I had CDs and other materials with sensitive documents and names, and also a CD that ICPC had produced featuring Liu Xiaobo, our former president, discussing freedom of expression in
China. During my interrogation, my captors started to ask me about ICPC: when I became a member, who is in charge of what, what kinds of groups or departments we have, and about other members who are active like me or who’ve done similar activities. I told them that ICPC is a member of the international organization PEN International. But they said, no, that’s not true: ICPC is a hostile organization against our state.

For an entire month, from February 22 to March 27, I saw no sunshine. For the first week, they came in waves, questioning me day and night. I got no more than an hour sleep each day. My only break was to eat or go to the toilet.

That’s their technique: they want to break you psychologically. They ask one question over and over to see if you say different things. They ask in the morning and the afternoon and the next day, again and again until they believe they have destroyed you psychologically, so you’ll say something you don’t want to say.

I was held for three months. And of course I wasn’t alone. In my circle of friends in Guangzhou, there were over 20 arrests, and many many more from across the country that were reported in the media. And there are some cases that weren’t reported.

This period of muzzling voices and suppressing civil rights in the name of maintaining stability has further weakened the rule of law in China. In March 2012 the National People’s Congress passed a revised draft of the criminal procedure law to permit secret detention and long-term extra-legal custody, giving the police new powers to abuse their publicly-vested authority, openly and brazenly expropriating and trampling on the individual rights and freedom of citizens. This weakening of the rule of law signals the advent of an even more terrifying and bloody period ahead.

Ye Du (real name Wu Wei) is a freelance writer and editor and serves as the webmaster and Network Coordinator of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre.