Comments on the government’s ban to play online games during a national holiday in April resulted in numerous young gamers being questioned by the authorities.
by Xiao Baiming
On April 4, the day of the Qingming Festival, often called Tomb Sweeping Day, that celebrates deceased ancestors, all public entertainment activities were banned nationwide this year because of the coronavirus. Even online games were prohibited. Angered with the restriction, a 17-year-old high school student complained online that “the dead martyrs prevented him from playing games.” The local police soon summoned him, wanting to know if the remark was “the result of his bad mood or because he is against the government.”
“It seems my life now contains an indelible spot,” the student said, worried that his remark will have a long-lasting effect on his future: seeking employment, joining the army, or going abroad. “The police warned me not to post more messages unfavorable to the government. They said that those who do might be held criminally accountable. During the epidemic outbreak, people who posted negative remarks ended up in prison. Officers ordered me to post information with ‘positive energy.’”
In China, those with police records or who are deemed having “an incorrect political stance” may not join public service or the army, they may also be blacklisted, put under surveillance, and restricted from traveling. Those who criticize the government or its leaders may even be imprisoned. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, internet censorship intensified even more.
On April 5, the cyber police in the eastern province of Jiangsu reported that six netizens, including three minors, were punished for posting “improper comments” on the ban of online gaming during the Tomb Sweeping Day that “hurt the feelings of the people and caused adverse effects.”
China’s netizens feel scared and angered, many commenting that under the current censorship, even the slightest deviation from the CCP ideology may lead to prison. Many think that most comments about the ban on online gaming were innocent; there was no need for the police to be involved.
A primary school student, not even 12 years old, was summoned by the police for posting on WeChat, China’s messaging platform, a joke amid the coronavirus outbreak that “Xi Jinping gets China ruined.” Officers questioned the girls why she had posted the remark online, and if she had ever used software to bypass China’s firewall to access anti-communist information. The girl had to write statements of repentance and guarantee, promising not to makes similar comments again.
“I will never make irresponsible remarks,” the student said after the ordeal was over.
Similarly, a middle school student was summoned by the police after complaining on QQ, an instant messaging service, that President Xi Jinping concealed information about coronavirus and the real numbers of infections and deaths from it. Officers told the girl that she could have been sentenced to prison if she were an adult. She was released after writing a statement, pledging never to send “improper messages.”
One of the girl’s relatives told Bitter Winter that the village secretary informed the family that this was “a serious case,” which may affect her future. “Her family pleaded with the police,” he added. “When she returned from the police station, the family scolded her for discussing ‘matters of the country’ on social media, even though they share her views.”