Copyright The Guardian
The growing power of China’s internet activists, who secured the release of Deng Yujiao, has its government on the back foot
29 May 2009
For millions of Chinese internet users, nothing could come as better news than the release of Deng Yujiao, a woman who killed a government official, saying she was defending herself against attempted rape. Someone as ordinary as Deng Yujiao, who admitted she killed an official and would usually face the death penalty, walked away on bail after just 17 days in detention. Her early release means she is probably going to be charged for a lesser crime, if she is charged at all.
This news story, with the figures of the “ordinary waitress” and “abusive government official” had the key ingredients to be picked up by internet sources. A grassroots movement railing against Deng Yujiao’s treatment dominated blogs and forums. This movement also began to influence the wider media, hailing Deng as a hero and calling for a fair trial for the waitress and harsh punishment for the government officials responsible. Without the overwhelming attention and pressure from internet users, this would be no more than a common criminal case, a woman who fought off a drunken man attempting to rape her, and killed him in self-defence. This is as close as we Chinese get to democracy.
Chinese netizens are growing in power, through their powers to expose both individuals and the government. The online community is more aware of the net’s power to influence as well as to inform. In the recent prison death in Yunnan province and in Deng Yujiao’s case, members of online communities actually came forward and effectively took part in the criminal investigations, attempting to replace state media and the police. In Deng Yujiao’s case, netizens interfered in a number of ways, whether legal or not: visiting her in the psychiatric hospital, probing the crime scene, attempting to protect evidence, and publishing personal details of government officials and their families.
One can’t help asking, not whether there will be another Deng Yujiao, but when? A senior official admitted that public servants have become perceived as public enemies. He has every reason to say so, not because every public servant is corrupt and lustful, but because the public’s frustration under non-credible single party rule is ascending to a boiling point.
Without political reform, the sword of Damocles is still hanging above the government’s head. The government’s grasp on power may be absolute, but it is also vulnerable to public opinion. It lurches from one extreme to another, transforming students’ peaceful protests into bloodshed and turning requests for an investigation of shoddily built schools by parents whose children died in the Sichuan earthquake into media bans and house arrests.
The Chinese government has been known to stand back in the face of all sorts of challenges. On one hand this allows them to carefully watch the situation and react with a single effective move; on the other, they almost always miss the golden window of opportunity to stem the public’s rage before it becomes critical.
Chinese people’s wealth is no doubt growing by the day, yet so is their demand for more political rights. The government increasingly finds itself in a difficult place under scrutiny by internet users. These days it at least wants to be seen to be governing with a benign hand. Deng Yujiao’s unprecedented release comes at a price; and the price tag reads “legal credibility.” The waitress deserves a fair trial â€šÃ„Ã® but a trial nonetheless. Her release is undoubtedly worth celebrating for millions of netizens who care about her, but it also marks a sad day for the Chinese judiciary. Public opinion must be respected but should never shift the course of law. Democracy prevailed? Justice served? Not quite.
Wang Wei – The Guardian
Copyright The Guardian