Liu Xiaobao, one of China’s most popular dissidents who died earlier in July, has sent a meltdown around the country, sparking suspicions that the recent usage problem with popular social media messaging apps –Wechat and Whatsapp — could mean the apps have been blocked just like Google, Twitter and Facebook.
In the aftermath of Xiaobao’s death in prison, sympathizers swarmed the Whatsapp for text and picture sharing, following rumors that the government was intercepting and deleting all shared messages commemorating the Noble Laureate’s death.
Image: Liu Xiaobao
Most netizens have complained that they’re having difficulties accessing Whatsapp in China. A large number of internet users say they’re finding it difficult to send or receive texts and pictures through the app.
Speculations have it that the Chinese authorities may have applied its Great Firewall, the country’s most-powerful internet control tool, to curb Xiaobao’s posthumous popularity.
“The Communist Party thinks because there is no tombstone we can not commemorate Liu Xiaobo, but in fact the whole sea has become a place where we can be close to him,” said Hu Jia, an activist and longtime friend.
Whatsapp proved useful because it offers end-to-end encryption which makes spying a hard nut to crack for the Chinese government.
Nonetheless, affected users are not only mourning the activist’s death, but lamenting the loss of privacy and rights to freedom of expression.
“so even WhatsApp is not working properly in this country 🙂 can’t send/receive pix.
very well, god saves u, no, godspeed u,” writes Yh Zhu @scattercran on Twitter.
@chinaorgcn asked, “does the great firewall now cover Whatsapp too because it has not been working since yesterday evening ???”
anyone know what happened to whatsapp in China?
According to Citizen Lab, an internet monitoring project at the University of Toronto, said images related to Xiaobo were blocked in private messages, group chats and on WeChat’s Moments feed following his death.
“Chinese social media companies receive greater government pressure around critical or sensitive events,” said Citizen Lab.
“Our findings document a significant shift in censorship after Liu Xiaobo’s death.”
Xiaobao was also blocked from China’s most popular indigenous messaging app Weibo.
A censorship researcher named Charlie Smith spoke with the Associated Press saying, it was expected that Whatsapp would be blocked by the government in order to force people back to using the unencrypted and monitored app Wechat.
Xiaobao was awarded a prize for his long and non-violent struggle to defend human rights in China.
The 61-year-old was a writer and literary critic; he was jailed as a political prisoner in Jinzhou, Liaoning.
However, on 26 June, 2017, he was granted medical parole after being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. He died barely one three weeks later in hospital on 13 July 2017.
The political figure was first imprisoned between 1989 to 1991 after he returned to China on completing his university education abroad. His incarceration was for supporting the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
He was later imprisoned between 1995 to 1996, and again between 1996-1999 for getting involved with democracy and human rights movements.
Xiaobao, the third person to ever receive the Peace Prize as a prisoner, was tried in court for his political beliefs on 23 December 2009.
Pronounced guilty as charged, he bagged an 11-year jail term with two years of his political rights withdrawn on 25 December 2009.
In order to bury Xiaobao’s political ideas, the Chinese government claims his ashes were cast into the ocean, a claim which has since sparked further protests from other “endangered” activists in the country.
Memorials in honor of the deceased has lasted over 7 days, a clear sign on the citizens’ suppressed agitations against President Xi Jinping’s autocratic government.