A group of Republican representatives sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook asking why his company, which publicly claims to be a defender of human rights, censors words like ‘Falun Gong,’ ‘Freedom of the Press’ or ‘Human Rights’ on its products sold in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong when even local laws do not require it to do so.
The point made by the legislators is, while Apple is premised on ‘complying with local laws’ and therefore the company often says it has to do things it disagrees with, why its products censor words that refer to topics considered ‘sensitive’ by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) when local laws do not require it to do so.
The letter notes that Apple issued a ‘Commitment to Human Rights statements’ in 2010, which states:
“…we work every day to make quality products… available to our users in a way that respects their human rights… we try to find the solution that best serves our users—their privacy, their ability to express themselves, and their access to reliable information and helpful technology.”
However, an analysis by Professor Ronald Diebert of the University of Toronto found that the devices Apple sells in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong have more than a thousand censored words or phrases, which cannot even be recorded at the time of purchase, i.e., users must resort to a technician outside Apple for such a purpose.
Half of the censored words or phrases are categorized as ‘political’ and the other half as ‘social.’ In all cases, these are topics that the CCP does not want people to know about, discuss, or learn about in media other than its own.
Professor Diebert’s research includes the case of a Hong Konger who asked to have the phrase ‘free the Hkers’ (Hong Kongers) recorded on his iPhone, and although the cell phone filters did not censor the phrase, the store clerk told him that ‘the higher ups won’t allow it’ and his request was rejected.
‘Falun Gong,’ another of the words censored by Apple devices in Asian countries, refers to a discipline of the Buddha School that in 1999 the Chinese regime decided to ban because it had become so popular that more people were practicing it than members of the Party.
Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, was taught free of charge in squares, parks, and public places. The practice consists of exercises and meditation that practitioners claim to improve energy and have impressive healing effects. In addition to the exercises, the discipline’s teachings, which are based on the Buddhist tradition, ask its practitioners to apply the principles of Truth, Benevolence, and Tolerance in their daily lives.
Although then Party leader Jiang Zemin, Xi Jinping’s current rival, decided to launch a destructive campaign against practitioners, who were estimated by the regime to number 70 to 100 million that year, the CCP did not ban Falun Gong in China, and there is no law criminalizing it.
The persecution of Falun Gong in China is a replica of what the perverse Nazi regime once did with the Jews. There are covert Gestapo-like agencies that pass orders verbally, leaving no record to avoid being held accountable in the future.
While the courts do prosecute and convict practitioners, the judges also guiltlessly admit that the convictions only respond to orders from the top CCP hierarchy because there is no legal basis to prosecute practitioners.
Hence, Apple’s censoring of ‘Falun Gong’ only answers to CCP’s agenda of persecution and not to a local law.
The case of Taiwan
While censorship in mainland China and Hong Kong, which with the 2020 national security law ceased to have autonomy from the CCP, is not surprising, lawmakers did note that Taiwan’s case is particularly troubling since, on the opposite side of the border from China, the island has robust democracy, freedom of speech and belief, and rightly does not recognize the CCP as its ruler.
“In Apple’s Our commitment to human rights statement, Apple states ‘we are required to comply with local laws, and at times there are complex issues about which we may disagree with governments and other stakeholders on the right path forward’. But any censorship of both Hongkoners and Taiwanese customers has no basis in either Chinese law or international law and directly contradicts Apple’s human rights commitments,’ the letter says.”
For the Republicans, Apple’s decision to censor only responds to its desire for profits because companies like Facebook and Twitter, in order not to comply with the CCP’s censorship, never directly landed in China, and others like Google ended up leaving due to the demands of the Chinese government.