China's internet regulator on Thursday shut down the account of a popular comedy streaming channel for "dishonoring" the ruling Chinese Communist Party's revolutionary heroes and martyrs, official media reported.
Rage Comic's account was revoked from major social media and streaming websites after it invoked the name of civil war hero Dong Cuirui, state broadcaster CGTN reported.
The powerful Cyberspace Administration called a meeting with top internet companies, after which social media platform Weibo and video sites including iQiyi and Youku said they had shuttered Rage Comic's account and deleted all content.
"According to the law to protect the reputation and honor of heroes and martyrs and the Cybersecurity Law, to establish and maintain a clean cyberspace and provide better content, Weibo will delete the content and close the accounts found violating the law," CGTN cited a statement from Weibo as saying.
Meanwhile, iQiyi said it would "strengthen" its monitoring systems to "protect and respect" national heroes.
The comic's official website was also unavailable on Thursday.
China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), passed a law in March criminalizing anyone deemed to have smeared the “reputation and honor” of the ruling party’s canon of heroes and martyrs.
The law, which came into effect on May 1, aims to "protect the reputation and honor of heroes and martyrs."
The new law bans "insults or slander" of heroes and martyrs, as well as any damage to memorials of revolutionary martyrs or heroic deeds.
Comedian Wang Nima, who presented the offending video, issued an apology via Weibo, saying he would reflect deeply on his "wrong" actions.
Online activist Wu Bin, known by his internet nickname Xiucai Jianghu, said growing government controls on freedom of speech are making many people feel it is unsafe to say anything online.
"This authoritarian regime is getting more and more inflated, to a level that is quite crazy," Wu said. "There is nothing they won't do."
"It isn't safe to say anything under this imperial dynasty."
A journalist surnamed Wu said draconian punishments such as removal from online platforms are now common for people who only make one "mistake" in their online speech or activities.
"It's one strike and you're out, now, in China. This isn't the first example, and it won't be the last," Wu said. "This has already happened many times before."
"It makes it hard both for companies and individuals to survive; it's one of the scariest things about China."
Crackdown on spoofs
Earlier this year, China’s culture ministry launched an administrative crackdown on the spoofing of its revolutionary culture and its heroes, ordering the deletion of thousands of online videos for parodying popular “red classics and heroes.”
The ministry had already begun investigating and removing videos from online sites after criticism in official media of the spoofing of the communist-era choral classic Yellow River Cantata by a number of performers, including a choir dressed in panda suits and singing about year-end bonuses.
"Internet and cultural agencies are required to conscientiously push back against spoof versions of revolutionary classics and heroes to ensure the dissemination of advanced socialist culture," the ministry said in a statement at the time.
Youku Tudou, Tencent, Iqiyi, Baidu, and Sina were also ordered to clean up their act after censors removed 3,898 offending videos of “pranksters” spoofing revolutionary songs.
“The Yellow River Cantata, written in 1939 during the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-1945), depicts the heroic spirit of the Chinese people during the war,” state news agency Xinhua said in its report on the crackdown.
The government's move is part of a much broader range of measures being rolled out under President Xi Jinping, which some analysts say hark back to the ideological controls of the Mao-era Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.