Hao Haidong, an ex-footballer, his wife Ye Zhaoying, a retired badminton player, followed by high-profile Jack Ma and, most recently, Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star. What is happening in Beijing.
This is not the first time a prominent athlete has been subjected to censorship for speaking out against China’s ruling Communist Party.
Last year, outspoken former China international footballer Hao Haidong and his wife, Ye Zhaoying, a retired badminton star, were similarly blocked on the internet after he openly called for the overthrow of China’s ruling Communist Party.
Following that was a prominent businessman.
Mr Jack Ma’s business empire quickly came under fire from Chinese regulators after he criticized China’s regulatory framework at the Bund Summit in Shanghai last October. The US$37 billion (US$50 billion) initial public offering of Ant Group, an affiliate of Alibaba, was halted, and he vanished for nearly two months.
And now there’s Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis champion.
Peng Shuai, one of China’s most popular tennis players, had her personal Weibo page banned shortly after she made sexual assault charges against a former senior lawmaker.
That occurred on November 2. Since then, she has not been seen or heard in public.
On November 2, she posted on Weibo an allegation that she was coerced into sexual contact with Zhang Gaoli, a former Chinese vice-premier.
But that post vanished quickly – most likely inside an hour.
Comments on Ms Peng’s own timeline have been disabled, preventing her over half a million followers from engaging in debate in that space.
Additionally, it appears as though certain search phrases were momentarily prohibited – for example, if a user searched Ms Peng’s name, results were restricted. Several of these controls have been loosened.
Additionally, recent Weibo posts by other users about Ms Peng have been deleted.
On November 3, Ouyang Wensheng, a Chinese tennis commentator, wrote: “Hope you are safe” and “How desperate and helpless she must have been.” Both of these posts have been removed.
To escape the censors, several have found clever alternatives.
Rather than directly address Zhang Gaoli, Weibo users have referred to him by other similar names or by names with the same Chinese initials.
However, authorities are aware of this and posts that attempt to circumvent the censors in this manner are also immediately removed.
Other social media platforms, including Douyin (Chinese TikTok) and popular video-sharing platforms Kuaishou and Bilibili, also restrict search access for sensitive story phrases.
When the name “Peng Shuai” is typed on the question-and-answer website Zhihu, no results are returned. However, when the term “Zhang Gaoli” is googled, results include posts depicting him as a heroic leader.
Now, an increasing number of prominent tennis players have inquired as to Ms Peng’s whereabouts.
Former world number one Naomi Osaka posted on Twitter: “Censorship is never OK at any cost. I’m in shock of the current situation and I’m sending love and light her way.”
An online campaign, using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai?, began circulating a few days ago and is now trending on Twitter.
The Chinese authorities have been reluctant to speak about the case.
On Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he wasn’t aware of the case after being pressed by journalists at a media briefing, but his remarks were later excluded from the official transcript of the press conference.
Where is Shuai Peng and when she would reappear?
Like high-profile Mr Ma faded from the public eye, and reappeared in mid-January, after “disappearing” for over two months, giving a video speech to 100 rural Chinese teachers.
It seems, we have to wait and the way, Mr Ma resurfaced on the internet focusing on his hobbies, she will come back too.
“Afghan women have the right to express their views on any matter, especially when their most basic rights – to study, work, and even leave their own homes – are in jeopardy,” said Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.
“The Taliban compound the abuses they are committing against women when they also deny them their right to speak out.”
And, most importantly, it is not limited to women in Afghanistan; everyone who speaks out against the Taliban’s leadership is persecuted.
Image Credit: Getty
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