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China: Government's video-censorship foiled

When a young teacher is found dead outside her apartment building in Ruian, the police report concludes suicide, but her family and students suspect a cover-up. Over a thousand people take to the streets in protest, and are met with police violence. Protestors film the clashes on their cellphones, and upload the clips to Chinese video-sharing sites, but the clips are rapidly taken offline – only to re-appear on other sites, as respected English-language Chinese blog Danwei reported on Tuesday. The Dai Haijing story – pieced together online by Roland Soong of another blog EastSouthWestNorth, or ESWN – is, despite the best efforts of the Chinese authorities, gathering pace online.

Since GVO’s own John Kennedy blogged about the disappearing protest videos, also on Tuesday, at least three have emerged on YouTube and on Photobucket, including the video below:

It’s clear why the authorities don’t want this footage to be seen. Despite the low definition of the cameraphone, the video clearly shows police officers beating protestors. ESWN quotes one commenter on bingfang.com as saying “Post those video clips and photographs onto international websites and let the world see the so-called democracy in China.” The consequences of doing so are unclear – whoever uploaded the videos to YouTube has a blog, http://dhj2006.blogspot.com/, which now returns the message “Sorry! Blog temporarily closed!” One US-based law professor's blog suggested that the authorities are sensitive because it reveals the lack of trust in public institutions.

It's more likely to be a question of timing. Wen Jiabao was in the UK on Tuesday to talk climate change with Tony Blair, and this is a bad time for a story like this to be leaking. The authorities have been concerned by the increase across the country in organised protests – against farmland seizures, corruption, pollution – of which the government said there were 87,000 in 2005, or around 240 per day. The latest release from the Public Security Ministry a month ago showed a slight decrease in protests for the first half of 2006, to 39,000, still well over 200 a day – and well before the Dai Haijing case.

The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders issued a statement Monday claiming an intensified crackdown by the Chinese authorities ahead of two Chinese Communist Party events and the 2008 Olympics. The statement calls for the release of a number of journalists, writers, lawyers and activists arrested and imprisoned in the last month, and robustly states that:

“The ruling authorities appear not to appreciate that their conventional tactics of using harsh crackdown to tighten control in advance of major political or social events has become obsolete. Rights consciousness is on the rise in China and grassroots activities to defend rights have been spreading rapidly. Repression has contributed to a growing and more active community of human rights defenders.”

This series of posts at ESWN illustrates the challenges faced by bloggers trying to get stories like this out to a wider audience, but this doesn't just affect China's bloggers – we’d like to hear your stories, wherever you are, about how you make sure videos like these remain online when the authorities seem extremely keen to ensure they get deleted.

This section of GVO is a collaboration between WITNESS and Global Voices Online, and in the coming weeks we're going to be highlighting a wide range of footage filmed by citizens, as with these videos, or by perpetrators of human rights abuses themselves, as I wrote about last week. We'll be seeking out videos from cellphones and camcorders, depicting – as in today's post – protests and reactions to human rights violations, but also many other rights issues including gay rights, refugee rights, prisons, police brutality, and violations by the military as well as the economic, social and cultural rights like those to water, housing, and health and a host of other human rights-related footage. We'll also be looking for footage of survivors of violations speaking out about abuses.

If you come across videos of this kind, whether on video-sharing sites like Google Video, Photobucket, BlipTV or YouTube, via email, or via MMS, please do let us know, either through the comments facility below, or by email.

In the guidelines, you’ll find an outline of the kinds of footage we’re looking for, and here are instructions on how to upload the footage to websites securely, and so we can find it easily.

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