Chinese cyber censors have shut down a website for laid-off full-time and substitute teachers ahead of Teachers’ Day, according to the teachers and their Internet service provider (ISP).
Teachers’ Day in China falls on Sept. 10, when the disgruntled teachers had planned to petition the country’s education ministry.
The website “Minban Daike Jiaoshi Wang” (Network of Contract and Substitute Teachers), which was created as a support system for laid-off teachers throughout China, was closed Tuesday.
An employee at the website’s ISP revealed that the site was brought down by an article titled “Preparation Underway for Founding of National Association of Contract and Substitute Teachers.”
A short notice on the closed website reads that “the site contains illegal information and thus its operation must be halted.”
“This site cannot operate in China because one of its posts is about contract and substitute teachers who are involved in politics,” said the ISP employee.
“If this single post was an illegal one, we could have simply deleted it. But this situation is different,” she said.
“We received an order from the upper-level management. Apparently, if we didn’t close the teachers’ site, our business could have been terminated.”
The “Network of Contract and Substitute Teachers” was founded and hosted by laid-off contract and substitute teachers from Hubei, Guangxi, Jiangxi, and other provinces. The site operated for nearly two years as a place for the teachers to voice their grievances and share relevant information.
Radio Free Asia contacted one of the founders of the site on Tuesday, but the teacher declined to be interviewed, saying that the government is addressing their problems.
However, another teacher in the northern province of Hebei disclosed that she had already been placed under house arrest over the planned Teachers’ Day petition in Beijing.
“Our phones are tapped and the authorities must know all details about the petition plan,” the woman, surnamed Yin, told RFA.
“They won’t let me out and are monitoring my activities. Even so, I will try to go to Beijing because our problems have never been solved.”
A teacher in Shaanxi, surnamed Yuan, said the laid-off contract and substitute teachers had vowed to petition on Teachers’ Day.
“Teachers from all around the country will gather in front of the education ministry in the morning on Sept. 8, preparing to celebrate Teachers’ Day there.”
Liu Feiyue, the Hubei-based editor of the China Rights Observer website, said the article which led to the closure of the teachers’ website had been posted online in July.
He said the recent shutdown of the site is “just an excuse” for a crackdown on the teachers’ group ahead of their holiday.
“In a few days it will be Teachers’ Day, when many teachers will petition provincial and central government offices. The authorities fear this might trigger large-scale unrest, so they took measures to clamp down on the upcoming protests.”
Contract teachers from all over China have tried to file high-profile complaints in recent months.
In February, authorities in the northern Chinese province of Hebei detained two teachers for more than 20 hours to prevent them from boarding a train to Beijing to lodge their complaints over what they called inadequate wages and benefits.
Another Hebei-based teacher said he was detained for more than 30 hours after he tried to present a petition representing around 20,000 contract teachers in the province to the provincial government complaints office.
In November last year, a group of more than 200 non-civil service teachers from the central province of Hubei went to the education ministry in the capital on to complain about their contracts. In the same month, a similar attempt was launched in the eastern province of Jiangsu.
Teachers in China can be hired on civil service or non-civil service contracts, and those on the latter frequently complain of wages that are below a minimum living standard and often go unpaid for months.
Directive No. 32, issued by the central authorities in 1997, called on local governments to put all teachers on civil service contracts, which carry higher wages and more benefits. But cash-strapped local authorities have dragged their feet over the new rules.
China’s army of petitioners say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by authorities if they try to take complaints against local government actions to higher levels of government.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.