Laos authorities are preparing to introduce unprecedented social media censorship possibly modeled on Chinese and Vietnamese censorship laws, officials announced this week.
The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications is currently drawing up the censorship laws which are expected to take effect by the end of the year, the ministry's E-Government Centre Director General Phonpasit Phissamay said.
The rules are aimed at ensuring social networking sites are used in a manner supportive of the government Users may be prosecuted for posting information the authorities don't like.
Amid the rapidly growing social media, Facebook users have been anticipating an online clampdown by the Lao Communist Party leadership, which has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1975.
I expected this would happen someday, even though government says we have a democracy, one Facebook user posted on the Laos News Update Facebook page. We won't be able to say anything [online] now. It's because the government
can't stand criticism from people, another user said.
Chen Xiwo has spoken about how he challenged the Chinese government's decision to censor his latest book. The Book of Sins is a collection of seven novellas exploring controversial topics including rape, incest and S&M and examine
the links between sexual and political deviance.
Xiwo launched a case to sue China's customs agency in an attempt to find out why his book, which was published in full in Taiwan, had been confiscated when it arrived in China in 2007.
Originally when the court hearings got underway the domestic news outlets were able to report on the progress until the propaganda ministry sent out an order forbidding further coverage.
Eventually the court ruled that Xiwo's case was a matter of national security, which ended further questions on the topic.
A heavily censored version of the book was published in China, in which parts of the text, including an entire novella, were removed. The banned story was I Love My Mum , and is about a disabled man who strikes up an incestuous
relationship with his mother which ultimately ends in him murdering her. The novella is metaphorical of Chinese society and so this is presumably the reason for the ban.
Xiwo's book has now been translated into English by Nicky Harman,.
Books by a few best-selling authors were removed from stores in China over the weekend.
Taiwanese author and director Jiubadao is widely known for his novels on romance and Chinese martial art while China-born US-based academic Yu Yingshi has published books on Chinese history and democratic theories.
No reasons for the removals have been revealed but sources say China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television had ordered the ban. Ding Qizhen, a social commentator speculated on the reason for the censorship:
Some speculate that it's related to the Fourth Plenary Session of China's Communist Party. Some say the related department is presenting a gift to the top leaders by eliminating dissenting voices.
Writer Jiubadao had earlier in the year expressed his support for the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, where students had protested against a trade agreement with China.
Publishers have also been asked to stop printing books by six other prominent Chinese writers. This includes Liang Wendao, and economist Mao Yushi.
In the next step in the Chinese government's quest for total thought control it has issued a ban on the sale of foreign publications without an import permit.
The new rules came into effect on the online shopping platform Taobao on Friday banning sellers from offering overseas publications. Taobao said the change, which also includes foreign services relating to publications, will enter
into force on March 10, 2017.
An employee who answered the phone at Taobao said the ban included books, movies, and games that hadn't already been given government approval:
If it comes from overseas, then basically, it's not allowed, for the time being at least. Any imported publications will need an import certificate under this system, and they need to be reported to the authorities. Only then can they be sold.
Pan Lu, of the Hubei-based rights group Rose China, said the administration of President Xi Jinping is currently tightening control over every aspect of public discourse. Pan said:
They are clamping down on ideology and public opinion. They can't afford to allow a pluralistic value system to seep into China via the consumer market for foreign publications.
The Chinese Communist Party is terrified that its own single-party ideology is bankrupt, and it is trying to shore up its grip on power by controlling what people think.
Hangzhou-based writer Zan Aizong said the new rules would make it much harder for people to get hold of foreign literature:
This will mean that people will have to resort to selling it on the quiet, because if you are found at the border to have political books in your bag, you will be detained, Zan said.
It's very hard to get books into the country from overseas.
He said the only option left will be to try to download e-books from outside the complex network of blocks, filters, and human censorship known as the Great Firewall.