A Chinese online activist said Tencent Holdings Ltd. shut down his WeChat instant messaging account after he set up a chat group called “Shorting China” to share information on protecting human rights in the country.
Wen Yunchao, a rights activist living in New York, said he got a notice April 16 saying his WeChat account was banned for serious violations of company policies. Wen also helped start a website that urged people to visit Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on the 25th anniversary of the government crackdown there.
Li Minchen, a spokeswoman at Tencent, said by phone yesterday that she couldn’t immediately comment and would need to look into the matter. Jerry Huang, a director of investor relations at Tencent, didn’t respond to an e-mail query and two calls to his office line in Shenzhen went unanswered yesterday.
China’s government has been tightening its grip on online messaging, with the Supreme Court saying in September that authorities could jail web users for as much as three years if they post comments deemed defamatory. Last month, Tencent halted several of WeChat’s “official accounts,” or accounts used by companies and individuals to post advertisements or news to groups of followers.
“I was just using WeChat and all of a sudden I got logged out and then when I tried to sign in again, I received a notice saying my account was shut,” said Wen, who was a visiting scholar last year at New York-based Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights.
When Wen tried to open his account, a message popped up saying, “Your account has been closed and cannot be used to log in to WeChat,” according to a screen shot he provided to Bloomberg News. After he applied to unblock his account, he got another message that read, “This WeChat account has seriously violated our policies and is permanently banned,” according to another screen shot.
WeChat generated about 200 million yuan ($32 million) of sales in the fourth quarter, offering new possibilities for growth at China’s largest Internet company, according to a company earnings release last month. The app had 355 million monthly active users by the end of December, up more than 30 percent since September, the release said.
“Clearly WeChat is where a lot of the action is, and if that’s where people are spending their time then that’s where the folks who manage content are going to be devoting more of their resources,” said Bill Bishop, who runs a newsletter called Sinocism that closely monitors the China Web. “It’s a natural progression of how to manage content and discussion online.”
After Tencent shut off official accounts in March, Huang said in an e-mail that the company continually reviews and takes measures on “suspicious cases of spam, violent, pornographic and illegal content.”
Wen has been involved in the New Citizens Movement, a group promoting the rights of ordinary Chinese. Four activists with the group were sentenced to jail terms ranging from two to three-and-a-half years today.
Wen’s “Shorting China” group included a dozen of people who were scholars, reporters and activists. The website he helped start, www.backtotiananmen.com, calls on people to visit Tiananmen on June 4, the date in 1989 when Chinese leaders ordered the army to clear thousands of protesters from the square during which hundreds of people were killed.