China Fires Journalist Who Tweeted In Support of Occupy Central

china-hk-admiralty-tents-nov-24-2014.jpg Pedestrians and pro-democracy activists walk past tents at a protest site in Hong Kong's Admiralty district, Nov. 24, 2014.

Updated at 4:50 p.m. EST on 2014-11-24

A journalist on a newspaper controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party has been fired after he spoke out in support of Hong Kong's Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.

Wang Yafeng, who wrote editorials for Communist Party mouthpiece the Jiaxing Daily in the eastern province of Zhejiang, lost his job after sending out tweets highly critical of state media's line on the Hong Kong protests on his personal microblog account.

"People who, without understanding the situation, launch their invective at Hong Kong's citizens' protest deserve to spend the rest of their lives as slaves," Wang tweeted last week.

His tweet was quickly deleted, but not before he was reported by large numbers of pro-government paid commentators known as the "50-cent" brigade, Hong Kong's English-language South China Morning Post reported.

Wang also tweeted that "to follow the party is to go down a road of no return."

According to a former colleague, Wang had kept a low profile since joining the paper four years ago, but had been fired for "crossing a red line."

"We have already terminated his employment contract," the employee, who declined to be identified, told RFA on Monday. "He made some inappropriate comments on his verified microblog account."

"You can read about this yourself in Chinese media reports; the reason for it is explained very clearly," the employee said.

A second member of the editorial staff at the Jiaxing Daily who also asked to remain anonymous said they weren't surprised by the response.

"You probably don't understand this there in Hong Kong, but here in China, there are some things that it's not permissible to say," the employee said.

Occupy Central

Hong Kong's Occupy Central protests, also known as the Umbrella Movement after protesters used umbrellas to protect themselves from tear-gas during Sept. 28 clashes, have taken over stretches of major highways in protest at China's plans for electoral reform in the territory.

China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), ruled on Aug. 31 that while all five million of Hong Kong's voters can cast ballots in elections scheduled for 2017 for Hong Kong's chief executive, they will only be able to choose between two or three candidates preselected by Beijing.

Occupy protesters and pan-democratic politicians, who won 54 percent of the popular vote in the last legislative elections, have dismissed the proposed reform package as "fake universal suffrage."

Beijing is extremely nervous that citizens in mainland China could gain inspiration from the movement to launch a popular movement of their own.

In response, it has removed reports, tweets and photos of the protests on its side of the "Great Firewall," a complex system of blocks, filters and human censorship of online content.

At the same time, tightly controlled state media outlets have repeatedly styled the movement "illegal," and instigated by "hostile foreign forces."

More than 100 activists in mainland China have been detained in connection with their support for the movement, while least 33 are still believed to be in detention, according to overseas rights groups.

'Spouting nonsense'

Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, said the administration of President Xi Jinping has been strengthening the role of the official media as party mouthpiece since taking power in 2012.

"It's as if a lot of people working in the Chinese media live double lives, spouting a lot of fake nonsense against their will, and suppressing their true knowledge of events and opinions about them," Huang said.

In Hong Kong, independent journalist Oiwan Lam, co-founder of the Inmediahk news website, said Wang is by no means the first person to feel the wrath of Beijing over public support for the Occupy movement across the internal border in Hong Kong.

"The censorship has been very strict indeed, and even the microblog accounts of very famous people have been shut down," Lam said.

"At the same time, there is anti-Occupy splashed across the pages of all the pro-Beijing media and across the Internet," she said. "Under such tight controls, it's very hard to say whether the Chinese public is genuinely against the Occupy Central movement."

Under the terms of its 1997 handover to Beijing, Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy and the preservation of its existing freedoms of speech and association, as well as continued judicial independence.

But Beijing has recently added Occupy Central student leaders to a blacklist, revoking their travel passes that enable Hong Kong citizens to visit mainland China.

Reported by Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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