China’s First Ever ‘Twitter Prisoner’ Left Out to Dry by Twitter Inc.

Twitter: the social network that has launched mini-revolutions, treatment exposed corruption and brought down hundreds of politicians.

A bastion of democratic, website like this online communication in 140 characters, Twitter is used by activists, organizers and dissidents everywhere from Britian, Canada and the US to Iran, Sudan and North Korea.  The microblogging site has played a major role in revolts, riots and resistance over the past two years, from the green revolution in Iran to the riots in Tunisia over the weekend.

But after a Chinese woman was arrested for a sarcastic tweet about anti-Japanese protests in China, for more than six weeks Twitter Inc. has not 140, not 130, not even 10 words to say about it.


The powers that be over at Twitter seem to see it as in their interest to try move mountains to allow Iranian dissidents to express themselves, but when it comes to China, even the most mild attempt at freedom of expression by people is met with repression from the government and a blind eye from Twitter Inc.

Call on Twitter to actively work towards the release of China’s first ever ‘Twitter Prisoner’

Twitter is banned in China, but many Chinese use proxy servers and various other tactics to get around the ‘Great Firewall’ and tweet away. One of them, Cheng Jianping, hopped on Twitter on October 17 to send a sarcastic tweet about anti-Japanese protests in Mianyang, a large city in the Sichuan province. Cheng Jianping, known to her friends as Wang Yi, didn’t even write the tweet. Sitting in her home in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, she was ‘re-tweeting’ a tweet by her fiancee Hua Chunhui who, upset by anti-Japanese sentiment, sarcastically called on anti-Japanese protesters to storm the Japanese stand at the Shanghai Expo. “Angry youth, charge!” she added.

Those three words got her one year of “Reeducation-Through-Labor” in China’s Henan province after police found her ‘guilty of tweeting’ (formal charge: “disturbing social order”) on November 12, what was supposed to be her wedding day. There was no trial.

Cheng Jianping is now the first Chinese citizen to become a political prisoner on the basis of a single tweet. Amnesty International and a number of human rights groups have advocated for her release, and Jianping’s lawyers have twice tried to appeal the case and sent formal protests to three government oversight bodies, correctly pointing out that the sentence is a violation of Jianping’s freedom of expression and clearly violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which China is a signatory.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo did tweet initially tweet about the case.

“Dear Chinese Government, year-long detentions for sending a sarcastic tweet are neither the way forward nor the future of your great people.”

But Twitter Inc. has done absolutely nothing since. Contrast that with what could almost be termed ‘corporate activism’ as the Iranian green movement rose following the country’s disputed 2009 presidential elections.

Human Rights in China, one of the few active rights groups in the country, is trying to change that. In a letter sent Saturday to the Twitter CEO, Cheng Jianping’s lawyers Lan Zhixue and Teng Biao call on Costolo to take legal action to protest what they claim was an infringement of Twitter’s lawful business activities, and to use the company’s “international influence” to call for her release.

“We call on you and your company to initiate legal proceedings as soon as possible to protect your lawful interests, and take practical action to protect your loyal customers’, that is, Twitter users’, lawful and legitimate rights and interests.”

Human Rights in China has translated and publicized the letter, hoping all of us can use it to launch a campaign calling on Twitter Inc. to actively take on Cheng Jianping’s case.

Join other members in demanding that Twitter Inc. actively advocate for Cheng Jianping’s release.

Winning this and similar campaigns depends on our ability to quickly call on thousands of supportive folks like you. After signing the petition below, please click here to help us win!

Photo credit: Cheng Jianping, Christa Burns