China's censorship machine kicked in to suppress the news as soon as dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But not even that could muzzle web users, especially those on Twitter.
When the prize was announced on Friday in Oslo, the communist regime's propaganda department moved quickly to prevent any mention in its media -- television, radio, press, phone services and the Internet were all affected.
AdvertisementThose who attempted to send text messages containing Liu's Chinese name found them blocked.
The state network China Central Television carried not a word of the peace prize, preferring to open its nightly news programme with a report on floods in its southern province of Hainan.
Initial reports on Liu on foreign networks such as CNN, BBC and French satellite channel TV5 were blacked out. And on popular Chinese web portals such as Sina or Sohu, the Nobel announcement was nowhere to be seen.
"Chinese journalists have received directives from the propaganda department forbidding them from publishing anything" about Liu's prize, Renaud de Spens, a Beijing-based independent expert on China's media, told AFP.
But De Spens said that censorship was becoming less effective on the Internet -- thought to be patrolled by around 40,000 "net police" but used by more than 420 million people in China.
He said "many messages have slipped through the net," especially on microblogging sites such as Twitter -- which is blocked in China but accessible via virtual proxy networks -- and homegrown equivalents such as Sina's Weibo.
"A Chinese web user won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize," wrote one Weibo user, while others posted pictures of Liu.
The dissident's wife Liu Xia, who has been put under house arrest and whose mobile phone is now out of service, managed to get her message out on Twitter.
"I saw Xiaobo and told him on the ninth at the prison that he won the prize. I will let you know more later. Everyone, please help me tweet. Thanks," she said on Sunday.
"Obviously, all these (communication) tools were not foreseen," said De Spens, adding the regime can only "try to patch up holes" in a veritable "phenomenon of mass circulation of information".
The official Xinhua news agency finally mentioned the prize late Sunday in a roundabout report taken up by dozens of online publications.
"Russian media say the Nobel Peace Prize has become a Western political tool," it reported.
The Global Times, which is operated by the People's Daily, the print mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, said on Saturday that the Nobel committee had "disgraced itself" by awarding the prize to Liu.
"The editors of websites that report the Chinese dissident's award will have their jobs taken away," a blogger named "Secretary Zhang", who specialises in news and online censorship, wrote on Twitter.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called the censorship "disgraceful," and "an insult to the universality of the Nobel Peace Prize."
"This frenzied censorship and propaganda effort confirms the importance of Liu?s peaceful struggle for free expression in China," RSF said.
Censors were caught unawares in the 60 minutes after the Nobel announcement -- with messages even posted on the chat forum of the People's Daily, called "Great Power".
Some messages survived up to five minutes before being erased. From then on, they were deleted just a minute after being posted.
This week, censors were gradually relaxing their iron grip, and searches of "Liu Xiaobo" on the Chinese search engine Baidu were successful, although not if they were followed by "Nobel Peace Prize."
"As usual, mass movements terrorise the leadership. They wanted to avoid protests happening on the actual day at all costs," said De Spens.
"Now that the media spotlight has faded a bit, censorship is getting lighter."