The Chinese government is reportedly increasing efforts to crackdown on its citizens using foreign social media platforms to criticized the Chines government or its leader Xi Jinping.
China has sentenced more than 50 citizens to prison in the past three years for using nationally-banned platforms such as twitter to allegedly disrupt public order in China, according to court records and databases from Chinese free speech activists, the WSJ reports.
In the past, China mostly resorted to detentions and intimidation to deter citizens from using illegal social media platforms. The escalation of punitive severity now marks a new level of hard-power censorship in the country.
Zhou Shaoqing, a resident of Tianjin, China, was detained last year after criticizing China's government in relation to the coronavirus pandemic on Twitter.
"The Chinese Communist Party system regards stability as its principle, and in the face of big problems, everyone protects themselves," Mr. Zhou tweeted in February. Hospital and health officials "would all, intentionally or otherwise, reduce the number of confirmed cases," he continued.
Later that month, three government officials dressed as neighborhood volunteers showed up at Zhou’s residence. When he opened the door for them, they and several other police officers rushed in and detained Zhou. He was then interrogated for his activity on Twitter.
A Chinese court reportedly ruled that his behavior damaged public harmony and he was sentenced to 9 months in prison.
"I felt helpless and indignant," he said.
China's increase in social media censorship has run parallel to a noticeable increase in anti CCP rhetoric on Twitter. China is making efforts to strengthen and promote its global image on Twitter and other platforms, and has adopted a zero tolerance policy for any internal postings that contradict that effort.
"The government knows well from its domestic experiences that propaganda only works when it is coupled with censorship of opposing views," Yaqiu Wang said, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.