The Coronavirus crisis continues to grip the globe and there has been no shortage of criticism levelled at those authorities responsible for allowing it to spread.
The Chinese Communist regime has born the brunt of the criticism and rightly so. Their attempts to cover-up the outbreak are a major factor in what the World Health Organisation (WHO) is now called a global health emergency of unprecedented scale.
But if you happen to live inside China, the chances are that you are oblivious to any of this criticism. That is because the Great Firewall, Communist China’s online censorship tool, has gone into overdrive to ensure that all negative coverage of the regime and any critical social media posts are quickly deleted.
As Vice has reported, there are countless examples of social media posts from the frontline in Wuhan and across the country being removed. Even more sinisterly, dozens of people have been arrested as a result of their posts, including one doctor in Wuhan who was treating patients.
In one example, a man in Tianjin has been jailed for ten days for “maliciously publishing aggressive, insulting speech against medical personnel” after he made critical posts to a WeChat group.
Meanwhile, the Chinese regime has gone into overdrive to try and whitewash its failings. The construction of two hospitals in Wuhan has gained widespread coverage but has shown clear evidence of propaganda. There has been little mention that these will be field hospitals not fully functioning institutions.
State-owned media outlets have posted dramatic videos of the built and used images which have been proved to be fake. Both the Global Times and the People’s Daily have tried to pass off images of a modular apartment block in Qingdao, 600 miles away, as evidence of swift progress.
While the rest of the world is openly criticising the Chinese regime’s abject failure to tackle the coronavirus with anything approaching international standards, these criticisms are largely not getting through to ordinary Chinese people. But the propaganda is and those that are critical are facing swift and serious reprisals.
Kashmiri’s turning to VPNs
Earlier this month, we reported on how the disputed province of Kashmir had been paralysed by an internet shutdown that lasted almost six months.
The good news is that India has now partially restored internet access to Kashmir which means that the regions seven million people can now get online again.
But this access is severely limited. Only slow 2G connections are working and the only sites that people can access are a list of 300 whitelisted sites. These are mostly things like tax collection, education, banking and government department websites.
Many popular sites, including social media sites like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, remain blocked across Kashmir.
But even the limited connection that is now available means that people can start to use VPNs to get full access to the internet once more.
From Monday, many Kashmiri’s have been seen reappearing on social media once more. Many of them have been using the hashtag #VivaLaVPN.
Indian authorities are still seeking to block VPN access in Kashmir, but this isn’t putting people off. Many Kashmiri’s are downloading dozens of VPNs and trying them all until they find one that works, according to Al Jazeera.
While their enthusiasm to get online again is understandable, this sort of approach to finding a VPN that works in Kashmir isn’t ideal. We would recommend Kashmiri’s opt for a premium VPN that is proven to work in the region such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN.
If they think they cannot afford the fees, there is always the option to share subscription prices with friends and family to split the cost. Some VPNs like IPVanish and SurfShark offer extra simultaneous connections to make this even more affordable.
Pakistan planning more streaming censorship
Across the border in Pakistan, draconian proposals to regulate online TV and streaming services have been met with a barrage of criticism from campaign groups.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) published a proposal earlier this month which would regulate content on platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo and streaming services like Netflix.
In a statement this week, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) claimed that a “parallel and much more drastic proposal for regulating content censorship” is currently being circulated within government. This suggests that the reality is that they are planning something much more severe.
The public proposal already includes a requirement for all online TV operators to pay 10 million rupees (US$65,000) for a license to operate. This is a drop in the ocean for the likes of Netflix but completely out of reach for the average person who runs a YouTube channel.
Groups inside Pakistan and from the international community have condemned this proposal and others as an attempt to curtail freedom of speech and an attack on civil liberties.
They have accused the Pakistani authorities of ramping up their online censorship efforts, an issue we have reported on many times before.
They have accused PEMRA of being in the pocket of Pakistan’s all-powerful military and intelligence agencies and, in a statement, said: “These newly proposed regulations and measures…can and will be used to censor online content and curb freedom of expression and right to information of media practitioners and citizens.”
There is little reason to doubt this assessment and it seems like the issue of online censorship is going to get a good deal worse in Pakistan before it gets better.