We’ve covered that how the poisoning of Zhu Ling, a 19-year-old cold case, is under national spotlight in China again after a recently similar case at Shanghai’s Fudan University. Chinese netizens, both in and outside of China, have been working for weeks to push for a re-investigation of the case. And yesterday, on World Press Freedom Day, authorities in China finally spit out their long overdue response – to block all words and to delete all posts related to the Zhu Ling case on Sina Weibo, China’s most dynamic microblog platform.
Zhu Ling, who is now completely paralyzed, practically blind and of the intelligence of a 6-year-old, was an attractive and talented sophomore at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University when she was poisoned with thallium. The case once shocked the whole nation. Her roommate Sun Wei was the only suspect investigated by Beijing police at the time. After Sun was received by her parents after only 8 hours of interrogation, the case was closed…without any closure or result report. In fact, Zhu’s parents were denied access to investigation reports.
The reason why the case attracted so much attention after 19 years is because the alleged poisoner Sun Wei is from a powerful and well-connected family with both her grandfather and her uncle working as high profile officials. Rumors even have it that her grandfather asked his old friend Jiang Zemin, then China’s president, for a little help. Therefore, to many netizens, the case of Zhu Ling is a test of rule of law in China. Netizens’ call for a re-investigation have been making huge waves on Sina Weibo for the past few weeks…until yesterday. (For more details about the case, check our earlier post here)
On May 3, several netizens who have been updating relevant information about the case reported that their Zhu related posts were deleted by Sina Weibo. Soon netizens found out that Zhu Ling has already become a “sensitive word” that, if entered in Weibo’s search box, returned the infamous auto censor reply “According to relevant laws and regulations, search results for word XXX are not displayed.” These XXX include the words “Zhu Ling,” “ thallium,” “Sun Wei,” “Tsinghua poisoning,” “Tsinghua thallium,” “thallium poisoning” and many more other combinations of the above mentioned.
If anyone ever had the hope that China’s new leadership with law backgrounds would mean justice for Zhu Ling and her family, that hope is now crashed. Popular Weibo celebrity 作业本 with some 5.7 million followers were banned from posting on Weibo for 48 hours for saying the following:
“ A poisoned girl who have been living the past 20 years in hell was blocked to be searched on Weibo. Her last chance to see justice done is forever lost.”
财经网, a news portal mainly focused on financial news but now what netizens call a “daring” media, posted a screenshot of all the censored words they tried out. In a matter of 3 hours, the image was shared more than 40,000 times. But thanks to the almighty censor, only 4 comments were lucky enough to stay.
Among the thousands of deleted comments, there was one from the official account of Weibo Search (@微博搜索): “In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 to be World Press Freedom Day.”
Sina Weibo, and other media, too, in China, is known for practicing self-censorship to avoid potential troubles. The comment from Weibo Search, however, left many netizens suspect that the order to censor Zhu’s case is from higher authorities in the government.
Instead of silencing discussions about the case, the only thing that the censor has achieved so far is igniting fury among netizens. And guess what, now nobody seems to have the slightest doubt that Sun and her powerful family is behind everything. The censor has successfully given this 19-year-old cold case an answer.
Netizen 吴苏媚 commented: “All of a sudden, Zhu Ling, Sun Wei and thallium all became censored words on Weibo. Someone must have used their greater-than-God influence. Is this also the reason why the case remains unsolved for 19 years? Now who dares to say that she [Sun Wei] is innocent?”
To express their anger, many netizens went ahead and posted Zhu Ling’s name after every single relevant post. For example, netizen 阿忆 from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Peking University, posted an array of Zhu Ling. The post was shared more than 3000 times in less than 2 hours.
Another netizen 曲卫国, after trying himself and confirming that Zhu Ling has indeed become a “sensitive word,” asked: “I wonder which law or regulation it is that the word needs to be blocked. Which law or regulation does a search of the word Zhu Ling violate?” Many more netizens were asking: “What are they afraid of?”
姚晨, popular actress and the queen of Weibo, said to her more than 45 million followers: “Young Zhu Ling was poisoned 19 years ago. 19 years later, the name was poisoned again.”
In the eyes of many netizens, Zhu Ling wasn’t the only one that was poisoned. The entire nation and its media were poisoned. Popular grass-root Weibo account 假装在纽约 commented: “We have a mouth, but we cannot speak freely. We have eyes, but we cannot see the real world. We have a brain, but we are not allowed to think. We have opinions, but we are not allowed to express. In a good case, our posts are deleted. In a worse case, ourselves are deleted. Facing with a suffering peer, there’s nothing we can do except keeping silent. Living in this country, who’s not poisoned by it?” Anther netizen 琢磨先生 commented: “What makes people hopeless isn’t the crime, but the force behind it. The force is so powerful that it is capable of sealing your mouth, of silencing kindness and conscience, of stealing people’s hopes. The force penetrates numerous cases. It brings shame to law, and bruises to justice and equality. It turns hope into desperation.”
A full list of censored words put together by netizen 李佳佳Audrey, who commented: “Fuck World Press Freedom.”