China is cracking down on the country’s Twitter users

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"Twitter jail" has a different meaning in China.

In most of the Western world, if a Twitter user tweets too much, the user’s account gets locked in what has become known “Twitter jail.” If a Twitter user in China tweets, they face actual jail time.

China is ramping up its crackdown on the country’s Twitter users, according to a report by The New York Times. Police in China are questioning and detaining those who use the service in increasing numbers. 

In interviews conducted by the Times, China’s Twitter users shared experiences of hours long interrogations and threats made to them, their families, and even their unborn children.

While the San Francisco-based service is banned in China, that hasn’t stopped everyone living under the authoritarian state from accessing it. Human rights activists have flocked to the platform, in hopes of using Twitter to spread word of the censorship and abuse happening within the country.

During these interrogations, Chinese police would share printouts of tweets posted by the detainee which they want deleted. These posts were usually critical of the Chinese government or Chinese President Xi Jinping, specifically. Often, officers would request the detainee delete their Twitter account. 

Activist Huang Chengcheng told The Times that his hands and feet were shackled to a chair during his interrogation before finally signing an agreement to stay off Twitter. The ordeal lasted for eight hours. 

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Another Chinese Twitter user, Pan Xidian, posted a dissident cartoonist’s artwork as well as criticism of the country’s crackdowns. Even though he only had 4,000 Twitter followers, he was brought in for questioning in November. After a 20 hour interrogation, he agreed to delete a number of tweets. Officers later showed up at his place of work even though he had been let go. Police threw the 47-year-old construction employee into a car and ordered him to sign documents claiming he had disturbed the social order and that he was being detained. He was forced to watch propaganda videos during a two-week stint in jail, all for the crime of posting to Twitter.

One young activist provided audio of his four hour interrogation that stemmed from a tweet about the environment. After warning the Twitter user that everything he does on the internet is being monitored, the officer advised him to stop posting to the network because if he gets caught a second time, it will affect his kids — if he ever has any.

China’s response to its Twitter users is extremely heavy-handed, especially if you consider just how many people in the country they’re targeting. Only 0.4 percent of China’s internet using population post on the platform, according to a study conducted by the Hertie School of Governance in Germany. China’s Twitter users amount to roughly 3.2 million people out of around 800 million Chinese internet users. A vast majority of China’s citizens do not even see the content Chinese Twitter users are posting.

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