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Dissidents Worry #TwitterIsDead After Company Hires Former Chinese Military Officer

(Image:  LoboStudioHamburg via  flickr/ CC0 1.0)

Chinese dissidents were not thrilled when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced on April 15 that the company has hired Kathy Chen as the new managing director for greater China. Chen previously worked for organizations affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army and Ministry of Public Security in China, both state institutions.

Although Twitter has been blocked in China since 2009, the number of advertisers that the platform sees from mainland Chinese companies has grown 340 percent since last year. Major mainland Chinese advertisers include brands such as Lenovo Group and Huawei Technologies, as well as domestic media outlets like the state-owned Xinhua news agency and People’s Daily.

Chen will be in charge of developing a business strategy in the greater China region, according to Shailesh Rao, Twitter vice president for Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and Emerging Markets.

However, some mainland Chinese Twitter users are doubting her intentions, given Chen’s previous positions. According to a BBC Chinese report, between 1999 to 2005, Chen worked for a corporation whose joint investors were the U.S.-based Computer Associates International and China’s Ministry of Public Security.

Hong Kong-based news outlet Apple Daily also revealed that she worked for seven years at a research center under the Second Artillery Force of the People’s Liberation Army, the armed forces of China. Stints at Microsoft and Cisco Systems round off her resume.

It wasn’t only her professional background that had Chinese netizens worried. Many found her a follow-up tweet, in response to Chinese state television network CCTV, chilling:

New York Times reporter @PekingMike replied with a sense of humor:

However, for mainland Chinese dissidents on Twitter, it is not a time for humor. @Badiucao, a political cartoonist, proclaimed Twitter dead with his new drawing (see top of this post):

@Arctosia pointed out that Chen must have gone through the Chinese Communist Party’s political review process in order to serve in the People’s Liberation Army:

This decision not only affects mainland Chinese, but Hong Kong, and Taiwan Twitter users, that the person behind the Greater China’s section of the platform is a Chinese Communist Party member, a military veteran who participated in the research of a missile and touched People’s Liberation Army secrets — which means, she had to pass the party’s background check and political review.

A open call has been posted on the U.S. White House’s petition platform asking for the U.S. government to further investigate Chen’s background:

While the language in the petition may seem hyperbolic, the Chinese government has been very active in uprooting domestic and overseas activist networks in recent years. Many dissidents who have been critical of the government have been charged with picking quarrels, inciting sedition or even sedition outright.

Given the growth of China’s extraterritoriality in incidents such as the alleged kidnapping of booksellers in Thailand and Hong Kong and the deportation of Taiwanese criminal suspects from Kenya to China, it is no surprise that Chinese dissidents using Twitter are concerned that their privacy could be exposed to mainland Chinese authorities.

On Twitter, @godfather3721 explained to Jack Dorsey why Chinese Twitter dissidents are so wary:

This article by Oiwan Lam originally appeared on Global Voices.

[This story has been altered for editorial purposes]

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