China has long since built up one of the world’s most advanced and strict firewall regimes. The Great Firewall is a huge network construction working through deep packet inspection that blocks access to most major websites available internationally. The Firewall is capable of blocking more than 600,00 websites like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and more.
The only websites Chinese citizens can “legally” use are ones that are in some way, shape, or form, controlled by the Chinese government itself. And since China represents one of the world’s biggest countries and thus a huge segment of international economics and trade, a lot of companies like Apple have begun to adhere to their censorship demands. But now, it seems like China is starting to go further by prosecuting even small-time individuals that by bypass the legal restrictions on the internet.
Two Chinese citizens were recently punished by police for going beyond the Great Firewall. One Zhu Yunfeng was fined 1,000 yuan, or approximately $146 for violating Chinese law by connection to international websites. While the sum doesn’t seem significant, the case seemingly sets a dangerous precedent, and perhaps presents value as a scare tactic for future offenders. The Chinese government thinks that too many people are willingly bypassing restrictions, and so they want to make Yunfeng an example.
Even the penalty for carrying illegal drugs is significantly less–around $70 or 500 yuan, roughly half of that of the fine Yunfeng is now dealing with. By making the fine for bypassing censorship worse than carrying illegal drugs, the Chinese government is making a clear statement about how much they want internet control to remain in their hands.
The announcement of the fine was made by Shaoguan City police, so it does appear to be something that the Chinese government wants made public–perhaps in an attempt to scare off other users. The penalty sheet provides information about Yunfeng, in that he is 30 years old and a resident of Nanxiong city which is thereby governed by Shaoguan City police. Yunfeng was using a VPN to bypass restrictions placed by the firewall and he was caught with a history of visiting restricted sites in total of 487 times.
The other case is Huang Chengcheng, who is from Chongqing. He was detained January 4th, for eight hours. However, this police report was not as specific and it only detailed, he surfed the internet illegally. A friend of Chengcheng’s posted that he had bypassed the firewall and was thereby arrested by the police. Right now, there is no word of a punishment, but he can be fined like Yunfeng, or even upwards of 15,000 yuan for illegally accessing internet content.
Critics think it’s ridiculous to punish people for navigating the internet, but it makes sense in terms of Chinese law. Shouldn’t people be punished if they break the law? And according to Reuters, even top executives–like from Huawei, who were caught using an iPhone and posting to their official Twitter account were punished with reduced salaries and potential salary freezes.
The problem is not with the punishments themselves—even if they are unnecessarily harsh, it’s the laws and the government itself who is pushing these laws. Free speech has all but been abandoned right now in the modern China.
The censorship laws shouldn’t exist at all, but they do, and they’ve only grown in scope. Censorship in china is getting worse, and thus the ideological indoctrination is becoming stronger as well. Right now, there are still critics in China, but how long can that last with the government prosecuting people who seek free speech? Only time can answer that question.