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Comment Icon0 When the government ignores negotiations from these unsanctioned NGOs, one of the most conspicuous ways dissident groups express their dissatisfaction would be to demonstrate at a publicly prominent place. On 25 April 1999, in protest against the ill treatment of practitioners by police, the Falungong pulled off a large-scale demonstration with an estimated 10,000 practitioners and sympathizers standing quietly outside Zhongnanhai, which is the office compound of China’s central leadership (see Figure 21; Amnesty International, 2000).


Figure 21: Falungong followers silently protesting outside Zhongnanhai in April 1999. (Amnesty International, 2000).

Comment Icon0 The Chinese Communist Party later declared the gathering on April 25 to be “the most serious political incident” since the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square (Human Rights Watch, 2002). More importantly, the Chinese government was alarmed by the apparent ability of the group to mobilize large numbers of people for a public demonstration so close to the seat of power (Sisci, 2001). Arguably, such massive scales of mobilization could be attributed to the accessibility as well as reach of modern ICT, such as mobile phones and the Internet, in China. For these unsanctioned NGOs, the Internet permits the global dissemination of politically sensitive information, through bi-directional communication such as instant messaging, email, online chatrooms and BBS. While the Internet allows for faster and easier coordination of actions than ever before, it also affords the dissidents the ability to operate in most instances without attracting the attention of the Chinese authorities, unlike traditional public demonstrations. The Falungong has been known to use email to set up a secret media conference in Beijing to tell the world about police beatings of detained members (Eckholm, 1999).

Comment Icon0 Conversations by email played an important role in the formation of the CDP, as it helped expand its membership from about 12 activists to more than 200 in provinces and municipalities throughout China in only four months (Farley, 1999). Even the CDP was impressed with the speed of growth, as Beijing CDP member and long-time dissident Gao Hongming explained to the media: “It is the first time we attracted so many people from all over the country; it shows what can be done” (Becker, 1999). Over time, emailing grew to become a popular means for coordinating open letters and petitions among dissidents and their supporters. For instance, in late December 1998, around 274 dissidents from 20 provinces signed an open letter demanding that authorities release Hunan dissident Zhang Shanguang, who was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for discussing rural unrest on Radio Free Asia (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002). Meanwhile, it has been suspected that the Chinese authorities have been busy trying to disrupt these politically subversive online communication channels. Constant attacks are made on the various dissidents’ BBS, chatrooms, websites as well as email services. The Minghui Net mailbox had been such a target, with repeated efforts to flood its email account, forcing the editors to switch email addresses. On 27 July 2000, a “Notice to Overseas Practitioners from the Minghui Editors” was sent out, which announced that the old editorial mailbox was to be replaced by a new address at eng_article@minghui.org (Clearwisdom.net). To prevent loss of readership in the event of future breakdown, practitioners were instructed to send their articles “to the various local dafa associations and ask those in charge to submit them […] to the Minghui editors”. Practitioners were also encouraged to “periodically compress Minghui essays and documents into ZIP files and send them to the many readers in China and other regions where it is not convenient for them to access the Minghui site”. This practice is called samizdat, and it involves the covert copying and distribution of government-suppressed media. It was first realized in the Soviet-bloc countries. Finally, email has also allowed dissidents and human-rights activists to communicate with the international media as well as foreign governments (such as the United States) on information about arrests, human-rights violations, and workers’ demonstrations on the mainland, as practised by activist Frank Siqing Lu at his Hong Kong Information Center.

Chapter 7.2.1 – Email Coordination

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