The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been blocking users who raise the issue of Taiwan on Twitter.

Jessica Drun, who works for a US think tank, found she had been blocked on Saturday after she tweeted about the need for Taiwan’s inclusion in UN bodies in light of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

Her original tweet called upon the UN to recognise the country: “Want to drive the point home that two orgs, @WHO & @icao, refuse to share knowledge w/ Taiwan authorities. This means civil aviation authorities for one of busiest regional airports do not receive up-to-date info on any potential ICAO-WHO efforts,” she wrote. “This is how a virus spreads.”

Beijing insists the island is part of China and pressures other countries and international bodies to follow its “One China” policy.

Multiple other users reported they were blocked for echoing the point.

The ICAO said in a tweet on Tuesday that “Irrelevant, compromising and offensive material will be removed and the publisher precluded.”

https://twitter.com/icao/status/1221872002140602369

Those who criticised the move were also blocked.

“How are calls to share info with the Taiwanese government, especially to help control the spread of a virus (and otherwise!), ‘irrelevant, compromising, offensive’ or not ‘fact-based’??” tweeted Naomi Lee, who was herself blocked within minutes.

One user was sent a “Minions” GIF by the UN agency after accusing it of acting despicably.

Anthony Philbin, communications chief at ICAO told HKFP that the UN body welcomes fact-based discussion: “[w]always grateful to be challenged by innovative and challenging viewpoints on civil aviation affairs. We have had to block some advocates who were active on our social media accounts in recent days, and who were deemed to be purposefully and publicly misrepresenting our organization in order to draw attention to their own campaign objectives.”

Philbin said the ICAO was not responsible for policies established at the UN General Assembly, including the 1971 resolution which recognised Beijing over Taiwan: “In light of our many public statements over the years on this issue, and the clear intent of the campaigners to misrepresent the factual context involved here, we felt we were completely warranted in taking the steps we did to defend the integrity of the information.”

File photo: ICAO.

He added the ICAO took action against Twitter users “to prevent them from asking repeated questions, or make repeated assertions, which foster serious public misunderstanding of ICAO’s actual capacities and role in the world.”

When asked by HKFP where such rules were posted online, Philbin said that the ICAO had published guidelines on “unconstructive tactics” – however, the link did not mention any such provisos. Philbin refused to clarify why certain users were targetted.

Taiwan has been ruled by the Republic of China government since 1945 after Japan – which occupied the island for 50 years – was defeated in the Second World War. The People’s Republic of China claims that Taiwan is one of its provinces and does not recognise it as an independent country.

Correction: 29/1: A previous version of this article misspelled Ms Drun’s surname.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Quartz, Global Post and others.