Chinese civil society has entered ‘ice age’ after years of crackdown: Activist

The Chinese civil society has entered an unprecedented “ice age” after years of the crackdown by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), said a veteran dissident Ou Biaofeng, adding that any form of resistance these days is almost guaranteed to “draw retaliation and clampdown”.

China’s clampdown on criticism of its response to the Coronavirus pandemic has included rounding up citizen journalists and silencing prominent academics and party members who have openly criticised its handling of the crisis, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

Ou was first taken away on December 3 to serve 15 days in administrative detention and was placed under residential surveillance at a designated location after his detention, allegedly for inciting subversion, according to a police notice issued to his wife Wei Huanhuan.

“The coronavirus pandemic has further cemented the party’s grip over society. Many human rights defenders are anxious and confused as they simply don’t see a way out. Any form of resistance these days is almost guaranteed to draw retaliation and clampdown,” Ou said.

The SCMP said that among mainland activists, a sense of confusion and desperation was prevalent with many questioning if their push for change has become a lost cause as the authorities grew stronger and became less tolerant of dissent at the same time.

The death of Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang from COVID-19 soon after he faced punishment for warning his colleagues in a private messaging group about a new “Sars-like” illness – caused a public crisis of confidence 11 months ago, serious enough to threaten the ruling authorities in Beijing.

The outcry against the death of Li was silenced as the country’s censorship and political apparatus swung into action.

The powerlessness of the activists was further exacerbated by the rising tides of nationalism and populism in the country, bolstered by the government’s success in taming the coronavirus and abysmal failure of Western democracies in containing the pandemic.

Citizen journalists – such as Chen Qiushi, Fang Bing and Zhang Zhan – were detained for their on-the-ground reporting in Wuhan. Prominent intellectuals, including former Tsinghua University law professor Xu Zhangrun, was sacked. Cai Xia, a retired professor from Central Party School, was expelled from the party in August and lost her pension – apparently as punishment for criticising the party.

Cai Wei and Chen Mei, volunteers who worked on Terminus2049, a crowdsourced project to archive censored news, including about Covid-19, were arrested in April and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

Terminus2049 was started on the Microsoft-owned code-sharing platform GitHub in 2018 for archiving censored posts on Chinese social media platforms WeChat and Weibo.

According to Chen Kun, Chen Mei’s brother and an activist himself, the Chinese government perfected the tools of political brainwashing in the name of patriotic education, censorship and pervasive propaganda.

“When people were in a state of extreme anger and fear, their sentiments exploded into the public. But when lives resumed to a somewhat bearable [level], people fell back into the ‘hole of propaganda’. This was what was most terrifying,” he said. (ANI)

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