02/08/2022, 15.15
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WeChat silences He Weifang, defender of rule of law in China

by Li Qiang

His sixth profile on the popular messaging site has been deleted. The lawyer says Tencent - owner of the social media - is trampling on civil rights. It was a veiled attack on the authorities, who tightly control the Internet. The academic has long been a government target.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The popular Chinese messaging site WeChat continues to silence He Weifang, a Peking University academic known for his campaigns in favour of the establishment of the rule of law and freedom of expression in China.

In a handwritten letter that has been circulating on the web since 3 February, the academic denounced the deletion of his sixth profile on WeChat. The social media outlet deleted his last account last month, despite the fact that it was registered under the pseudonym 'old crane'. WeChat has more than a billion users and is also used as a web payment system and as a recognition code for health and transport services.

For the treatment it has received, He is attacking Tencent. According to the professor, the hi-tech giant that owns WeChat "tramples on civil rights". In an interview with the South China Morning Post yesterday, the law professor said he had registered a seventh profile and wanted to see what the operator's response would be. In the event of further cancellation, he is considering legal action.

He argues that a private company cannot arbitrarily decide who can and cannot have a social account. Rhetorically, he wonders who gave Tencent such power, without the user being able to defend himself legally. Given the authorities' tight control over the internet and social media, He's allusion to the government is clear. In his letter, he calls on the population to join him in protest.

The Peking University jurist is a well-known critic of the Chinese regime. Together with two other reform-minded academics, Xu Zhiyong and Xu Zhangrun, he criticised Xi Jinping for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago.

In a post on WeChat, he wrote that 'China's lack of freedom of speech and expression has encouraged the spread of the lung infection' and that 'without a free press, the people will live in suffering and the government in lies'. Shortly after the message was published, the Chinese cyber security administration ordered its removal.

In the past, He lost his university chair for supporting the well-known dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. He had also supported Charter 08, a document drafted in December 2008 by a number of intellectuals, including Liu, calling for greater democracy and respect for human rights, which was censured by the Beijing leadership.

Freedom of the press, independence of the judiciary , human rights, protection of trade unions and social organisations are at the heart of He's demands for the establishment of the rule of law in China.

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