By: Times Wang & Yang Jianli 8/12/20
Times Wang is the founder of North River Law PLLC, a law firm focused on litigation related to human rights. Yang Jianli, a former political prisoner of China, is founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China.
When news broke about President Trump’s executive order targeting WeChat, the Chinese social media and e-commerce app, we were deeply ambivalent. We’ve been working on a series of lawsuits on behalf of U.S. users against the company over its censorship and surveillance practices for months now, so we certainly understood the impulse. But we fear the executive order risks going too far, because it will reduce the exchange of grass-roots information between people inside China and people outside of it, and because it threatens to bring the United States down to China’s level when it comes to free expression.
Neither of us can be described as sympathizers of the Chinese Communist Party. One of us, Yang Jianli, was a survivor of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The other, Times Wang, is the son of one of China’s most prominent political prisoners, Wang Bingzhang.
Nor can we be said to be naive about WeChat. Indeed, we probably know better than the government the nature and reality of how WeChat’s practices undermine free speech in the United States. The cases we’ve uncovered, all involving ethnically Chinese people, both citizens and non-citizens, share one thing in common: The users made postings perceived as critical of the Chinese government. The consequences have included the blocking and deletion of accounts, resulting in the erasure of cherished photos and memories, as well as the distressing inability to communicate with family members in China in the middle of a pandemic… [Continue Reading]