In China, “Twitter jail,” normally when you get locked out of your account when you’ve reached the limit of 100 tweets per hour or 1,000 per day, could mean literal jail time.
Chinese police are reportedly detaining and questioning Twitter users as authorities escalate its crackdown on China’s online censorship in part of President Xi Jinping’s campaign in suppressing interactivity, according to The New York Times.
The report interviewed several citizens who were detained by Chinese police as they share stories and experiences while undergoing hours of long interrogations and threats made to them and their families.
Officers would often request to delete tweets posted by the detained citizens, which usually express critical opinion against the government or Xi Jinping. If they refuse to cooperate, some cases resort to tapping the account and deleting it.
Wang Aizhong, a human-rights activist, was at the receiving end of this justice system when the police asked him to delete his social media posts. But after refusing, he received notifications on his phone one night last month about backup codes and soon later he found out that 3,000 of his tweets had been deleted.
“If we give up Twitter, we are losing one of our last places to speak,” he said.
However, there have been cases where police use physical restraints when detaining Twitter users on top of showing print outs of their tweet as well as threatening them. One such activist, Huang Chengcheng, recounts his experience when he was made to sign a promise contract to stay out of Twitter after eight hours of interrogation under restraints.
A similar, but even more traumatic incident, happened to 47-year-old construction company employee, Pan Xidian, after he posted a comic created by dissident cartoonist known as Rebel Pepper as well as criticism of China’s human-rights crackdown.
He was called in for questioning in November that lasted for 20 hours. Pan was forced to delete several tweets in his account and was released, but officers later showed up in his work and threw him inside the car. There, he was again forced to sign a contract that states how he disturbed the social order, and was presented another document showing how he must spend jail time.
Pan then spent two weeks in jail along with 10 other people as they watch propaganda videos.
“In this era, we certainly know fear, but I can’t control myself,” crying, Pan told the media through a phone interview. “We’ve been living a very suppressed life.”
“We’re like lambs,” he said, adding, “They’re taking us one after another. We have no ability to fight back.”
A young activist, who provided audio of his interrogation that lasted for four hours, was threatened by the police saying that everything he does on the internet was being monitored. This all happened after he made a post about the environment.
And to make things worse, officers also warned him to stay off social media sites and if he gets caught again, the crime would severely affect his future kids.
Out of the 800 million internet users in the country, only 0.4% (or 3.2 million) have access and can use Twitter, a study conducted by the Hertie School of Governance in Germany said. Most people in China won’t even have the chance to see the content that these people post on Twitter or even any other post on the platform for that matter.