China’s crackdown: Police target citizens following dissident artist’s social media

Hong Kong, March 19 (ANI): In Europe, a dissident Li Ying is provoking anger from Beijing, prompting the Chinese authorities to target his social media followers, CNN reported.

For over a decade, Lee has successfully evaded China’s internet restrictions to use Twitter, now known as X, without facing repercussions from the authorities.

The Chinese lawyer refrained from discussing politically sensitive topics and seldom interacted with other users, primarily using the platform to archive his posts from heavily censored Chinese social media.

Despite Beijing’s heightened efforts to curb free speech beyond its Great Firewall of internet censorship, Lee continued to tweet. Last month, he was summoned by police not due to his tweets, but because of the accounts he followed.

During an early-morning phone call, an officer invited Lee for a “chat” – a euphemism for police interrogation – to discuss the “sensitive accounts” he followed on X.

At the police station, it became evident that the officer had a specific target in mind: a forthright and unfiltered Chinese-language X account with a cat avatar and 1.6 million followers, known as “Teacher Li is not your teacher,” CNN reported.

“The police asked me if I followed the account ‘Teacher Li is not your teacher,’ but I honestly didn’t know,” Lee stated in an interview. Under the officer’s watchful eye, Lee logged into X, located the account, and promptly unfollowed it.

This account belongs to Li Ying, a Chinese artist turned dissident based in Italy, who gained prominence in 2022 for live-tweeting nationwide protests in China against Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy.

Li’s X feed serves as a critical source of uncensored news for individuals in China. Followers send him photos and videos from Chinese social media before they’re censored, and Li reposts them on X, offering a candid glimpse into aspects of Chinese life that Beijing seeks to conceal.

Li’s account documents various events, from school scandals to protests by migrant workers demanding unpaid wages, creating an alternative narrative to the sanitized version presented by the Chinese government.

Despite facing pressure from authorities, including visits to his parents, interrogations of his friends and freezing of his financial accounts, Li continues to tweet. Now, Chinese authorities are targeting his followers within China, as reported by CNN.

The intensified crackdown on one of X’s most influential Chinese accounts coincides with growing concerns in Washington over Beijing’s influence in cyberspace beyond its borders. Recently, the US House passed a bill that could potentially ban Chinese-owned app TikTok over national security concerns.

X, like Facebook and other Western social media platforms, remains blocked in China. However, a minority of Chinese citizens, particularly urban residents who are more educated and tech-savvy, access it through virtual private networks.

Despite the platform’s increasing prevalence of misinformation and propaganda, it remains a crucial space for political dissent and social discourse among Chinese speakers.

Li’s popularity surged following China’s protests against Covid lockdowns, resulting in a doubling of his follower count. However, on February 25, Li warned his Chinese followers that the Ministry of Public Security was scrutinizing his 1.6 million followers and summoning them for questioning.

In response to Li’s warning, panic ensued among his followers, resulting in a significant drop in his follower count. Other prominent Chinese dissidents on the platform also reported declines in their follower counts, according to CNN.

The escalation in police harassment of Li’s followers signifies a troubling trend of tightening control over freedom of expression in China. Police interrogations now extend to individuals merely for following certain accounts on X, reflecting the government’s fear of dissenting voices.

Li believes that the intensified harassment of his followers is in response to his account’s documentation of events in China. Despite efforts to suppress information within China, platforms like X provide a conduit for uncensored content to reach a wider audience.

According to Yaqiu Wang, a researcher at Freedom House, the growing discontent with political repression and societal issues prompts more Chinese citizens to seek the truth about their country, even at the risk of defying government controls.

The widening crackdown reflects the insecurity of the Chinese authorities and underscores the influence wielded by individual activists like Li. Wang argues that despite government repression, Chinese activists continuously adapt and find new avenues to express dissent.

Lee, the Chinese lawyer questioned by authorities, emphasizes the importance of Li’s account in disseminating truthful information. Despite the interrogation, Lee remains steadfast in his support for Li’s account, underscoring the resilience of individuals in the face of government intimidation, CNN reported.

The ongoing crackdown on dissenting voices on X highlights the Chinese government’s increasingly aggressive efforts to suppress free expression and control the flow of information. However, individual activists like Li continue to defy censorship, leveraging social media to expose truths that Beijing seeks to conceal. (ANI)

This report is auto-generated from ANI news service. ThePrint holds no responsibility for its content.

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