Authorities in China have been targeting Twitter users who post or retweet articles or comments critical of the Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela, RFA has learned.
Zhao Weidong, a Twitter user from the northern province of Shaanxi, was called in for questioning by police in the provincial capital Xi’an and fined after he forwarded a post to social media critical of the country’s beleaguered authoritarian government.
He was issued with an administrative fine of 500 yuan on Jan. 29 for retweeting “false information,” according to a copy of the fine notification seen by RFA.
Zhao, who tweets as “Zhao Su” @ctm10001, retweeted a Jan. 20 tweet from the U.S.-based account @brother_chui that asked “How did Venezuela go from being the richest democracy in the world to a totalitarian socialist state?”
“Well, we have [Chinese president Xi Jinping] to thank for that, for exporting the evils of communism to the whole world!” the tweet said.
It said that since Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro had taken power, he had revised the constitution, brought in media controls, locked up dissidents and massacred protesters, as well as “importing … Chinese surveillance systems.”
Repeated attempts to contact Zhao for comment were unsuccessful on Monday.
Online free speech activist Wu Bin, known by his internet nickname Xiucai Jianghu, said he had also been approached by Chinese state security police over a tweet he sent about Zhao’s fine.
“The state security police told me to delete the tweet, so I deleted it,” said Wu, who spent 13 days in administrative detention in December over his last critical tweet. “It’s ridiculous; now you don’t just get fined for criticizing our own [government], you can get fined for criticizing a foreign country, too.”
“Our relationship with Venezuela is too cozy by far, to the extent that they have to dig the knife in on behalf of our so-called friend,” Wu said. “There is no freedom of expression in this country, nor any sense of safety.”
A Twitter user surnamed Wang said the ruling Chinese Communist Party doesn’t want the Venezuelan opposition movement to influence its own people, and has been censoring news of developments in the country since the international recognition of Venezuela’s self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó.
“The incident involving Zhao Su from Xi’an … shows that the Chinese Communist regime’s so-called self-confidence is actually non-existant,” Wang said. “They are in a state of high alert because of the changes in the political situation in Venezuela.”
“That’s how ridiculous things get in an authoritarian state,” he said.
Preventing ‘another color revolution’
Economist and social media commentator He Jiangbing said the authorities don’t want discussion of the negative aspects of socialist regimes like China’s.
“They are still trying to prevent another color revolution,” He told RFA. “That’s because Venezuela and China are very similar, and China is already halfway along the road that Venezuela took to ruin.”
“It’s very natural that they would fear this,” he said.
Political commentator Chen Pokong said Beijing is likely also worried about how U.S. President Donald Trump’s support for the Venezuelan opposition could affect bilateral ties.
“The United States is no longer sitting on the sidelines, as far as Venezuela is concerned,” Chen wrote in a commentary on RFA’s Mandarin Service.
“Active U.S. involvement can be seen as a sharp about-face in the policies of the Trump administration, namely, a return to interventionism,” he said. “The political support offered to the opposition and the economic assistance to the Venezuelan people didn’t rule out necessary military intervention.”
“In his State of the Union address, Trump attacked at great length the disasters brought down on Venezuela by socialism, showing that he no longer ignores the challenges that different political and ideological systems pose.”
“This change in attitude is bound to apply to China, too,” Chen wrote.
Since last year, China’s “stability maintenance” regime has been targeting critics of the ruling party and the administration of President Xi Jinping on Twitter, deleting a large number of accounts, rights activists say.
Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote in a recent report that Beijing has been targeting its citizens on the platform, which is blocked in China without the use of circumvention tools.
“Authorities have detained or summoned dozens or more Twitter users, forcing them to delete sensitive tweets or close their accounts,” Wang wrote. “In some cases, authorities appear to have hacked accounts themselves.”
State security police now appear to be targeting even those users with relatively few followers, with concerns expressed in interrogations and “chats” over the content of tweets, even though the content is visible only to Chinese users who have access to the right tools to circumvent censorship by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s cyberspace administration, Wang said.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Tam Siu-yin for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.