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Chinese Man Sentenced to Prison for Selling VPN Software

A Chinese man running a small-scale website on which he sold VPN software has been sentenced to 9 months in prison. Weibo netizens take the man’s prosecution as another sign that authorities are stepping up their fight against software that allows people to browse websites that are blocked in China.

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A Chinese man running a small-scale website on which he sold VPN software has been sentenced to 9 months in prison. Weibo netizens take the man’s prosecution as another sign that authorities are stepping up their fight against software that allows people to browse websites that are blocked in China.

A 26-year-old man from the city of Dongguan, Guangdong province, has been sentenced to 9 months in prison for selling VPN software through his own website.

According to China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) database (China Judgments Online) Deng Jiewei was found guilty for the crime of “illegal control of a computer system”, contained in Article 285 of China’s Criminal Law.

The criminal law Article states:

“Whoever violates state regulations and intrudes into computer systems with information concerning state affairs, construction of defense facilities, and sophisticated science and technology is be sentenced to not more than three years of fixed-term imprisonment or criminal detention.”

The prosecution notice, issued online on an information disclosure platform of the People’s Procuratorate (人民检察院案件信息公开网), states that the man was arrested in October of 2016 for setting up a .com website earlier last year through which he offered two types of VPN software, making a total profit of approximately 2125 US$ (14000 RMB).

The notice clarifies that the .exe software sold by Deng allowed users to circumvent China’s web censorship and visit foreign websites.

 

“I am scared we could all be arrested now.”

 

Although the sentencing took place in January of this year, the news only surfaced on Chinese social media on September 3rd, soon gaining over 6000 shares on one Weibo post about the issue, and over 4000 shares of another post that reported the sentencing.

Many netizens questioned the severity of the punishment for selling a program to browse the Internet. “The crime of wanting to know the truth and selling a ladder,” one person said, referring to VPNs as a way to ‘climb over’ the Great Firewall of China. Another Weibo user posted an image of George Orwell’s 1984 in response to the news.

One commenter sarcastically wrote: “I suggest we now also bring back the crime of counter-revolution (反革命).”

Some netizens wondered how the man could have been prosecuted under Article 285: “How can using a VPN be defined as ‘intruding into computer systems’?”, one Weibo user asked.

Another person also noted that the law concerns the intrusion of computer systems relating to ‘state affairs’, but that the prosecuted man was only running a small-scale website selling VPN software. “According to this sentencing, I am also guilty for using a VPN,” he said. Another commenter shared similar worries: “I am scared we could all be arrested now.”

Chinese authorities have introduced numerous restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs) this year. In January, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a notice that it will strictly contain the unapproved use of VPNs by Chinese firms.

In July, Bloomberg News reported that the Chinese government had instructed telecommunications carriers to block VPN access by all individuals in China by February 2018. Shortly thereafter, Apple removed all major VPN apps from the App Store in China.

On Weibo, some see the prison sentence for the VPN-seller in Guangdong as another sign that authorities are stepping up their fight against software that allows users to browse blocked websites. “The dark days are coming,” one man writes.

By Miranda Barnes & Manya Koetse

Featured image by paper.wenweipo.com

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Miranda Barnes is a Chinese blogger and parttime translator with a strong interest in Chinese media and culture. Born in Shenyang, she now lives in Beijing with her British husband. On www.abearandapig.com they will share news of their upcoming year-long trip around Australasia, East & Central Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. evolighting

    September 5, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Well, there is only things that they want you know and what really happen could never be found.

    Too many details are missing.

    • xidada

      September 5, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      It’s China.. I think you can be safe to assume the only thing he did was offer a VPN service considering he ‘only’ received a 9-month prison sentence..

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China Digital

China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection’s New Online Campaign: “Anti-Corruption” Gifs & Video

China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is propagating old ideas in new ways.

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Five years after launching its “Eight-point Regulation,” the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) turns to Weibo and WeChat to propagate its core values amongst Chinese netizens.

China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI/中纪委), the highest internal-control institution of the Communist Party of China that enforces internal regulations and combats corruption and wrongdoings in the Party, has been remarkably active on social media this week.

Not only did the CCDI issue a set of 16 GIF images for netizens to use; they also launched a new public ad campaign reiterating their “Eight-point Regulation” (八项规定), a set of regulations aimed at instilling more discipline among Party members.

The rules were issued on December 4th, 2012, and relate to how Party members “should improve their work style in eight aspects, focusing on rejecting extravagance and reducing bureaucratic visits, meetings and empty talk,” according to Xinhua (2012).

 
8 Rules, 16 Gifs
 

On December 3rd, the CCDI issued its set of 16 gifs. The images, that are meant to share as downloadable ‘stickers’ on WeChat, are all themed around regulations to fight corruption and malfeasance in the Party.

The images warn against things such as the private use of cars meant for official business, or using public money for festive dinners and drinking.

The WeChat stickers became a hot topic on Chinese social media this weekend, although many netizens did not necessarily appreciate the latest addition to the wide collection of WeChat gifs.

“You can use them among your 80 million [Party members], the commoners have no use for them!”, some wrote. “What are the normal people supposed to do with them?” others wondered. Many comments on the stickers were soon taken offline.

 
“No Need to Spend Your Free Nights at Social Parties”
 

The CCDI is increasingly using digital media to communicate its core values to a large online audience. On Monday, Chinese state media also shared a short public ad campaign video by the CCDI.

It reflects on how the “Eight-point Regulation” have “changed people’s lives.”

The introduction text says:

You do not have to spend your after work hours on social events – coming home after drinking alcohol to find your child and wife fast asleep, leaving nobody to talk to. You do not have to spend you half-monthly wages on gifts to people who you barely even know. You do not have to surrender to the unwritten rules. In five years, the eight provisions have changed China – changing the lives of you and me.”

The voice-over in the video suggests that people now have more time to read books, work out, and spend time with family. The campaign’s main message is: “You can, but you don’t have to.”

Although the video was praised by some, there were also many who said its message might fall on deaf ears: “These ‘unwritten rules’ are not about Chinese bureaucracy, they are about Chinese culture,” some pointed out. “If you don’t give presents, you won’t succeed.”

 
Propaganda 3.0
 

Over the past few years, Chinese authorities are increasingly using social media as an important channel to share propaganda. This is often done in creative ways.

Information about important events and state visits of Chinese president Xi Jinping, for example, is often propagated online by means of a gif or short animated film, with Xi as a cartoon figure.

‘Cartoon commentary’ from China Daily 2016: Xi’s Europe-Asia Tour.

Both the One Belt, One Road initiative and the 19th Party Congress saw many gifs, cartoon, videos, rap songs, and even online mobile games that conveyed the government’s main message on core Party aims and values.

With the Chinese online population growing every day, and a great majority of this online population using WeChat and Weibo for daily communication and news-checking, social media have become an effective channel for propaganda in China today.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

Huawei Phone with Built-In Muslim Prayer Function Stirs Controversy

Huawei’s response to criticism over its Mate 10 Pro’s special alarm function for Muslim prayers has spiraled into a ‘PR crisis.’

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The built-in Muslim prayer reminder function on one of Huawei’s latest smartphone models has stirred controversy online. But Huawei’s response to the issue has now become a bigger controversy than the function itself.

A commercial for Huawei’s popular smartphone model the ‘Mate 10 Pro’ has been met with harsh criticism earlier this week.

Chinese English-language media outlet Sixth Tone reports on Friday that controversy around the Huawei phone started when a Chinese poster for the new model showed the Mate 10 Pro’s prayer reminder for Muslims alongside a function to locate nearby mosques. Author Lin Qiqing notes that “Chinese Islamophobes take issue with Huawei’s new smartphone” and that its prayer alarm feature “irks the irreligious and intolerant.” (The article has since been removed from the Sixth Tone website.)

Huawei, however, believed that netizens’ “vicious attack” on the company was the result of a targeted campaign by people who deliberately “distorted the facts.” They described the angry commenters as an “Internet water army” (shuijun 水军): a group of online ghostwriters paid to post comments to manipulate a company’s public relations. They also threatened to take legal actions against these commenters.

The company issued the statement on November 16, saying that the model with the alarm function would not be available on the Chinese market and that the alarm function is specifically designed for customers in overseas regions. They later removed the commercial from their website and from all other online platforms.

 

“Don’t discredit netizens by labeling us as a ‘water army.'”

 

Online commenters denied the criticism on Huawei was part of a larger conspiracy against the brand. “Don’t discredit netizens by labeling us as a ‘water army,'” one popular comment on Weibo by microblogger @Zhuzhou (@煮肘) says. The netizen, who received much backing, also writes that “companies should not contribute to spreading religion.”

Huawei is one of China’s most popular smartphone brands. Its model Huawei Mate 10, the follow-up to last year’s Mate 9 along with the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, became a trending topic on Weibo in October, with the hashtag #华为Mate10# receiving over 480 million views in some days time.

On Weibo, many commenters say that they feel that brands such as Huawei should maintain a neutral image.

One blogger wrote: “That Huawei has added a smartphone function to remind Muslims to pray is actually a small thing, causing a big wave [of controversy] online. Technology companies should indeed take a neutral position in their design, and should not build in this kind of special religious (..) functions. It is really easy to design an app for prayer reminder; Huawei is doing more than it should.”

 

“A recurring keyword in these online discussions is ‘halalification.'”

 

The latest Huawei controversy follows consecutive online controversies in China over the past years concerning companies or institutions adapting to the diet or lifestyle of Muslim communities.

Earlier this year, delivery app Meituan sparked online anger when it introduced separate boxes for its halal food deliveries. Many netizens said the measure discriminated against non-Muslims, or said that if there are special boxes for food for Muslims, there should also be special boxes for food for Buddhists, Daoists, atheists, etc.

In September last year, the introduction of special “Muslim-only” shower cabins at a Chinese university also provoked anger about alleged “Muslim privilege.”

A recurring keyword in these kinds of online discussions is “qīngzhēn fànhuà” (清真泛化). It basically means ‘halal-ification’ or ‘halal generalization,’ but because qīngzhēn also means ‘Islamic,’ it can also imply ‘Islamization.’

Those who oppose the spread of halal food or special services for Muslims in the PRC connect the normalization of Islamic dietary laws and lifestyle to an alleged greater societal shift towards Islam.

In response to heated discussions and growing online anti-Islamic sentiment, Chinese authorities blocked various online words that are considered demeaning to Muslims in September of this year for “undermining ethnic unity.”

 

“I do not understand why a customized service for Saudi Arabia would appear on the official Chinese Huawei website.”

 

On Weibo, the ‘Huawei incident’ or ‘Mate 10 Incident’ (mate10事件) has become a much-discussed topic, especially after Huawei issued its statement that the phone with the built-in prayer and mosque locator function was designed for overseas usage.

Many netizens are angry about Huawei’s response to the issue, not just because they took the criticism as an organized attempt to smear the brand’s image, but also because they did not explain why a function meant for overseas markets would be advertised within China.

“5:26: morning prayers.”

Netizen @GoogleMuqin (@google木沁) writes:

This is my attitude about the mate10 incident:
1. I do understand that Huawei releases customized products for Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, and I support that.
2. I do not understand why a customized service for Saudi Arabia would appear on the official Chinese Huawei website.
3. And I loathe the patronizing attitude of Huawei in responding to this issue
.”

The ‘alarm clock incident’ is triggering so much criticism online, that many people consider it a ‘PR crisis’ for Huawei.

“I think that people are not so much upset about whether or not the phone has this function or not, but they are more upset about Huawei’s reaction to this issue,” one commenter says: “If this function is not available in China, why did Huawei advertise it on so many platforms in China, is this not misleading conduct?”

There are also people who do not understand what all the fuss is about in the first place: “As a Huawei user, I am not offended at all by this function. I have many Muslim friends, and they respect my preferences and I respect their religion.”

It’s all just business, many also say: “There are 1.6 to 2.1 billion Muslims in this world. China also has some twenty million. As a commercial company, it is understandable that Huawei does this.”

One netizen (@夜光边) writes: “This is not a sign of Huawei’s friendly relations with Muslims (..), it is just a sign that they are targeting Muslims as their customers. If you’re not Muslim, then just don’t use this function. It won’t affect you at all.”

By Manya Koetse
@manyapan

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2017

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