China's censors have blocked key terms related to the escape of blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, CNN International reported.
Searches on Sina Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter, for terms such as "blind man," "the Shawshank Redemption" (the prison-break film being compared to his case), and "CNN" receive the message, "According to relevant laws and policies, results are not displayed," CNN reported, as censors attempt to prevent the public from obtaining news about the dissident's escape after more than 18 months of house arrest.
Also blocked was "UA898," a United Airlines direct flight from Beijing to Washington, referring to the online rumors that Chen will gain US asylum, Agence France Presse reported.
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Chen fled his house in eastern China a week ago with the help of supporters, evading guards and allegedly taking refuge at the US embassy in Beijing, dissident Hu Jia and other activists told Agence France Presse. Neither the Chinese nor US government has commented on Chen's whereabouts, as the two nations prepare for a two-day meeting in Beijing this Thursday, according to Reuters.
As usual when communicating about sensitive news prone to censorship, Chinese web users are using "word play and innuendo" to get around the government's restrictions, Reuters reported.
"Just amazing! It's true, the blind lawyer has been saved," wrote Weibo user "Sikeyadi," whose profile picture is of a man wearing dark glasses behind bars, according to Reuters. "The light of freedom burns strong, and those dog officials must be run out of the country."
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Chen is a self-taught legal advocate who fought against forced abortions resulting from China's "one child" policy, Reuters reported. He had been confined to his home in the village Linyi in September 2010 when he was released from jail.
None of China's major newspapers or other media have reported on Chen's escape, according to AFP, and a random poll of over 30 subway commuters in Beijing by CNN found that only two people knew of the activist.
"It was all over Weibo for a while before the topic was censored," said one of the two, a young man who declined to give his name, CNN reported.
"It's a typical response by officials and quite a successful strategy in making it extremely difficult to spread information beyond some small circles of activists," Jeremy Goldkorn, a leading commentator on China's social media, told CNN. "But people interested in such things will still manage to find out."