In China, microblogs are transforming the way activists draw attention to human rights cases. Despite strict Internet controls, activists on the net are using the Chinese version of Twitter as a powerful tool to plan action and educate people. First, a warning: parts of this story may be distressing, especially to children. NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Beijing.

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: The man in the video lies under a green quilt, apparently naked. His left eye and right ear are covered with bandages. The skin on his feet is discoloured and peeling.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Are you Yang Jinde, asks a voice. I'm the lawyer appointed by your family. What would you like to say? His voice quavering, Yang Jinde describes his case. He was found culpable in a business dispute, and the court removed money from his bank account. He led a protest, which turned violent, outside the courthouse. He was then detained at a police dog training centre in Henan. Yang says he was tortured to make him confess.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through Translator) They put people in dogs' cage, leaving only their heads outside, sticking out from the cage. Then they got police dogs to lick the heads. It's so scary, people wet their pants.

LIM: Yang says his feet were burned with a cigarette lighter. He was tortured until he was paralyzed. He went blind in one eye after being slapped, and he was denied medical care. At trial, he was found guilty of leading a gang, and given 21 years in prison.

Zhu Mingyong is the lawyer who made this recording inside another detention center. The lawyer shot the video out of desperation.

ZHU MINGYONG: (Through Translator) Yang's former lawyer tried reporting his situation to the courts and the relevant departments, but nothing happened. We released this publically, to raise attention from ordinary people and China's leaders.

LIM: Yang's sister also helped gain attention. On her microblog, she offered herself as a slave to anyone who could help her brother. She didn't want to talk to NPR. But, propelled by her tweets, the video of her brother has gone viral. Even the state-run media have covered the case.

CHEN GUANGCHENG: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Since the rise of the Internet, blogs and Twitter, we the people have our own voice. Those are the words of Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer who's been held mostly incommunicado in his house since being released from prison last year. He had angered local authorities by exposing a campaign of forced abortions. But he's become the center of a microblog campaign.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: A number of prominent intellectuals have released videos about Chen. This one describes his case as a most shameful page in history. Meanwhile, groups of Internet users have staged visits to the blind lawyer in Dongshigu village in Linyi, Shandong province.

His village is surrounded by plainclothes agents. Anyone who approaches is turned back, sometimes beaten or robbed. Murong Xuecun is one of China's hottest young authors. Days ago, he made the trip, with three friends. They were forcibly removed and driven off in a bus. When they tried to return, they were attacked.

MURONG XUECUN: (Through Translator) One friend was kicked twice in the stomach. This very violent guy knocked me over on the ground. Each of us had small injuries. But they were very gentle to us, compared to what happened to people who went before.

LIM: Such journeys are tweeted, every step of the way. Mostly, the tweets are deleted, but still, it raises the profile of Chen Guangcheng. That's the calculation, especially when Murong Xuecun - who has more than a million followers - is doing the tweeting.

XUECUN: (Through Translator) I sent one tweet which was retweeted 12,000 times before it was deleted. I guess that day, at least a few million people knew what we were doing.

LIM: Murong Xuecun has described himself as not being a troublemaker. He describes Chinese Twitter as a game-changer, bringing about China's enlightenment.

XUECUN: (Through Translator) These past few years on microblogs, I've seen lots of people discussing the idea that the nation is not the same as the government, and that human rights is more important than sovereign rights. So Twitter is driving China's enlightenment.


LIM: A couple of nights ago, netizens got close enough to set off fireworks outside Chen Guangcheng's house. They recorded it, of course, and put it online. This online pressure has had some results. Chen's six-year-old daughter is reportedly being allowed to go to school for the first time. And, of course, the blind lawyer, Chen, and the tortured businessman, Yang, are becoming household names at home, as well as overseas.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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