In recent months, China has launched a harsher campaign in an effort to stifle political dissidents that are utilizing the internet to express concern over their government’s actions and policies. It seems as if China is following the path of Russia-another country famous for consolidating its media under Vladimir Putin. Several years ago when Russia began nationalizing its television networks and restricting journalists’ coverage of Chechnya, Condoleezza Rice issued a statement reprimanding Russia’s actions and noted that it was a “growing concern” for the United States. The “growing concern” amounted to empty threats and pathetic attempts to scold Russia for dangerously limiting citizen’s freedom of speech. If the United States remains as an idle bystander more countries, like China, will continue to persecute internet bloggers and journalists. Hopefully the Obama administration will not only acknowledge China’s crackdown on the media, but apply pressure to the regime in order to blunt the media rollback.
Charter 08, a political manifesto encouraging dramatic democratic reforms and signed by hundreds of Chinese intellectuals has led the government to tighten its control over the internet. Inspired by Charter 77, a document that circulated in 1977 throughout Czechoslovakia in a plea for the government to respect basic human rights has provided the foundation for Charter 08. Charter 08 not only addresses human rights but also asks the government to adopt a republican constitution and balance the legitimacy of institutions. The document, released on the 60th anniversary of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights has already been met with swift action from the Chinese government. Several leaders of the Charter 08 campaign have already been detained. At least 70 of the original 303 signatories have been summoned. Liu Xiaobo, a literary critic and supposed brains behind the Charter 08 operation has been in house arrest-leading to an international outcry calling for his immediate release.
Human Rights Watch, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other major corporations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) joined together and established the Global Network Initiative (GNI). GNI seeks to hold governments accountable and protect the rights of freedom of expression. The GNI initiative is crucial in combating online censorship in countries such as China, Iran and Russia.
However, NGOs can only do so much-it is up to U.S. policymakers to exert real pressure to ensure some level of freedom within the China. Even though previous attempts to modify internal Chinese policy through trade and economic stipulations have failed to move the Communist government, strong stands on ultra-specific rights rollbacks such as this would be the perfect precedent to set.