Posts Tagged ‘China’
By Keith B. Richburg | The Washington Post | April 3, 2011
BEIJING — Ai Weiwei, one of China’s most prominent artists and an outspoken critic of the communist regime, was taken from Beijing’s airport by security agents Sunday as he was about to board a flight to Hong Kong. Police later raided his studio.
Ai is the most high-profile activist to have been detained in a government crackdown in which dozens of bloggers, human rights lawyers and writers have been swept up.
The arrests seem related to the government’s concern that activists in China want to launch a “jasmine revolution” similar to the popular uprisings roiling autocratic governments in the Middle East and North Africa.
Some of those detained have been accused of “inciting subversion of state power,” a catch-all term used to jail anyone critical of Communist Party rule. Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, faced the same charge and received an 11-year prison sentence.
Since mid-February, when anonymous calls for “jasmine rallies” in China began circulating on the Internet, 26 people have been arrested, 30 have disappeared and are presumed held by security forces, and 200 have been placed under “soft detention,” meaning their movements are restricted, according to a count by the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders on Thursday.
But the arrest of Ai and the others appeared to mark what human rights groups and others called a new and more sinister phase in China’s ongoing, and typically cyclical, repression of dissidents. In the past, such sweeps of activists have preceded major events on the calendar — the 2008 Olympics, major Communist Party meetings or the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo last December — and have receded once the event ended.
The arrests of bloggers and writers, in particular, on subversion charges suggests a rollback of the limited open space recently allowed for free opinion on the Internet and particularly on popular Twitter-like microblogging sites.
“This is not a crackdown in the classic cycle of tightening and loosening,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Hong-Kong based China researcher for Human Rights Watch. “This is an effort by the government to redraw the lines of permissible expression in China, to restrict the most outspoken advocates of global values.”
Activists such as Ai — an active Twitter user — have been continually pushing the boundaries of what is allowed, while increased connectivity is giving ordinary Chinese people more access to uncensored information and viewpoints.
Chinese Human Rights Defenders, in its Thursday statement, said, “In the context of the democratic uprisings taking place in the Middle East and North Africa, the Chinese government, fearful of its own people, is counting on getting away with staging one of the most repressive campaigns in more than a decade because of the international community’s preoccupation with events elsewhere.”
The outspoken Ai, 53, was the artistic director for the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium, but he later turned critical of the Games. He has been arrested before: In 2009, in the western city of Chengdu, Ai was beaten so badly that he required surgery to have blood drained from his brain. Late last year, he was stopped at Beijing’s airport from flying to South Korea because authorities feared he might go to Oslo to attend the Nobel ceremony for Liu. Liu is in prison, and his wife, Liu Xia, is under house arrest.
Ai was prevented from having a solo exhibition of his work at a Beijing gallery this year, and in January authorities demolished his newly built Shanghai studio. In March, Ai announced that he was opening a studio in Berlin to escape the restraints on artistic freedom in China.
Police detained Ai on Sunday morning, and his assistants and attorneys said they were concerned that they have not had any communication with him since. After his arrest, police blocked off the streets to his studio and raided it, carting away laptops and the hard drive from the main computer, Ai’s workers said.
They said eight staff members and Ai’s wife, Lu Qing, were taken to the local police station for questioning. Even as night fell, Lu and two staffers were still being held, they said.
Liu Xiaoyuan, a lawyer, said he hoped Ai’s international fame would provide him some protection while in police custody.
Liu also said the arrest appears to be “related to the intense international situation, such as what happened in Egypt, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries.” But he said it was too early to say whether Ai’s Twitter posts and interview statements about jasmine rallies in China played a part.
On Feb. 24, amid an online campaign for Middle East-style jasmine rallies in major Chinese cities, Ai posted on his Twitter account: “I didn’t care about jasmine at first, but people who are scared by jasmine sent out information about how harmful jasmine is often, which makes me realize that jasmine is what scares them the most. What a jasmine!”
Twitter is blocked in China, except for those with a virtual-private-network line or an Internet connection from outside the country. Ai has 72,000 followers.
Researcher Zhang Jie contributed to this report
By Gordon Crovitz | The Wall Street Journal (Opinion) | March 7, 2011
In Tunisia, the self-immolation of street vendor Muhammad Bouazizi, protesting harassment by local authorities, led to demonstrations that toppled the regime. In Egypt, it was photos posted online of Khaled Said, who had been beaten to death by corrupt police officers. In both cases, Facebook pages drew attention to the cases, and Twitter posts helped organize protests.
They do things differently in China. In contrast to more amateur authoritarians, Beijing is so sensitive to protests against similar abuses of power that it controls access to the Internet almost totally.
Consider the case of a college student who might have been killed by railroad employees in January. According to researchers at the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project, Zhao Wei was on his way home to Inner Mongolia from his studies in Tianjin when he got into a dispute with a railway employee over his seat assignment. His parents were informed that he had committed suicide by jumping from the train.
Last week, the parents managed to post on Sina, the domestic version of Twitter, photos of his dead body with injuries indicating death by beating. The post was quickly forwarded more than 66,000 times and commented on 14,000 times.
The Hong Kong researchers found that mentions of the case have been “actively scrubbed from the Internet.” Domestic search engines have been so effectively filtered that searches result in a link simply saying the railroad is investigating.
A similar case late last year involved the son of a public security official who ran over two university students in Hebei, killing one. When arrested, he said, “Go ahead—sue me if you dare. My father is Li Gang,” the local deputy police chief. The case quickly became well known on the Web, including a contest to use “My father is Li Gang” in a poem. The phrase became synonymous with shirking responsibility. The Central Propaganda Department then issued a directive that there be “no more hype regarding the disturbance.”
In her famous 1979 Commentary essay, “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” Jeane Kirkpatrick argued that totalitarian regimes such as the Soviet Union differed fundamentally from merely authoritarian ones. Today there is a gap between what we can call information totalitarians and information authoritarians. China has simply shut down communication services such as Facebook and Twitter and sources of information like Google. Likewise, Iran has largely closed off communication, and North Korea has no Internet access.
Other countries are authoritarian but with modest openness. The Mubarak regime, for example, briefly shut down the Internet in Egypt, but only after reformers had used its tools to organize opposition.
Beijing does not hide its ambitious control over the Web. According to a study by researchers at Tsinghua University, China spends about as much on domestic security—$77 billion—as it does on its military. There are officially some 80,000 protests a year in China, mostly over abuses such as illegal land seizures, forced evictions and refusals of officials to accept petitions of complaints.
According to the state news service Xinhua, more than 300,000 government employees perform “community service management,” such as monitoring the Web for dissent. Propaganda ministry officials have told local officials they have about two hours between news of “sudden incidents” to close down online information flows and stop people from gathering for protests. Officials are working on new software to track trending topics such as complaints about corruption.
More than 100 Chinese have been arrested and charged with “inciting subversion” for blogging about the Middle East demonstrations. When protest organizers used online tools to encourage people to go on “strolls” in cities across China every Sunday, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported harassment and beatings of foreign journalists trying to cover these silent protests.
There is a disconnect between the enormous economic progress China has made over the past generation and the tight lid it keeps on their ability to communicate. Chinese people have more reason to be confident and optimistic about their future than did Arabs in authoritarian countries, but they also want to be free of both petty and large corruption of local and national officials throughout China.
Reformers within the government know they sit on a tinderbox, but Beijing opts to clamp down instead of letting people vent frustrations. Strong-armed control over the Web may be the clearest sign of political weakness.
“The Chinese authorities instinctively choose repression when confronted with any problem: lock up people, censor their writings, block the Internet,” wrote veteran China watcher Frank Ching in the China Post last week. If this is really necessary, “maybe China is much more vulnerable that it would appear on the surface.”
By Keith B. Richburg | Washington Post Foreign Service | February 25, 2011
BEIJING – Chinese authorities continued to tighten controls on Internet use Friday in the face of murky calls for “jasmine rallies” to emulate the anti-government protests convulsing the Middle East and North Africa.
The professional networking site LinkedIn was blocked in China, joining sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that already were inaccessible due to government controls. LinkedIn was apparently blocked after a user began a discussion group called “Jasmine Voice.” The user asked followers to comment on the possibility of a “jasmine revolution” in China.
“I think it’s pretty clearly connected to the number of postings about the jasmine stuff,” said Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of a popular Chinese media blog and an expert on the Internet here.
Also Friday, the Chinese name of U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. joined the list of terms blocked from searches on popular Chinese micro-blogging sites, along with previously banned words including “Tunisia,” “Egypt” and “jasmine.” A search for Huntsman’s Chinese name on the sites turned up only the notice that the results could not be returned due to “relevant regulations and policy.”
Huntsman drew the ire of Chinese nationalists here after briefly appearing last Sunday in Wangfujing, a commercial pedestrian area of central Beijing. Organizers of the jasmine rallies, whose identities are unknown but who seem to be affiliated with an overseas organization, had asked Chinese to silently pass through the area as a peaceful form of protest against government authoritarianism. Few protesters actually appeared to show up, however, mainly due to a massive police presence in the area.
Huntsman, in sunglasses and a leather jacket, was out of his car talking to an unidentified passerby when he was caught on camera by a person who appeared to be a plainclothes policeman. That person confronted the ambassador, asking, “Do you want to see chaos in China?” Huntsman quickly left the area.
The U.S. embassy said Huntsman’s appearance at the site was “purely coincidental” because he was in the area with his family on a Sunday outing.
“We are aware that some Chinese domestic Internet sites are restricting searches of Ambassador Huntsman’s Chinese name,” said U.S. embassy spokesman Richard L. Buangan. “We urge China to respect internationally recognized fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, and the human rights of all Chinese citizens.”
This week in Wangfujing, workers erected a large blue construction fence in front of a McDonalds restaurant where the rally organizers had asked protesters to silently pass.
Merchants in the area said the fence went up two days ago, ostensibly because of needed sidewalk repairs – but Friday there was no sign of any construction activity. The fence, however, takes up much of the pedestrian mall area and significantly narrows the space where people can pass.
Since the popular uprising began in Tunisia in January, nervous Chinese authorities have been on guard against any attempt to replicate the protests here.
Friday’s edition of Global Times – a tabloid newspaper owned by the Communist Party’s official organ, People’s Daily – ran a lead editorial titled: “Turmoil in China is wishful thinking.”
The editorial blames “a few Western media outlets” for trying to promote unrest in China, and opines, “Anyone knowing about the Chinese society would never predict a Chinese-style ‘Jasmine Revolution.’ This society is now generally stable.”
In another sign of the unease, several Western media bureau chiefs were called into the main office of the Beijing police on Friday and warned to be mindful of the State Council’s rules governing foreign reporters conducting interviews in China.
Washington Post researcher Zhang Jie contributed to this report.
By Anita Chang | The Associated Press | February 21, 2011
BEIJING – Jittery Chinese authorities staged a show of force to squelch a mysterious online call for a “Jasmine Revolution,” with hundreds of onlookers but only a handful of people actively joining protests inspired by pro-democracy demonstrations sweeping the Middle East.
Authorities detained activists Sunday, increased the number of police on the streets, disconnected some cell phone text messaging services and censored Internet postings about the call to stage protests in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other major cities.
Police took at least three people away in Beijing, one of whom tried to place white jasmine flowers on a planter while hundreds of people milled about the protest gathering spot, outside a McDonald’s on the capital’s busiest shopping street. In Shanghai, police led away three people near the planned protest spot after they scuffled in an apparent bid to grab the attention of passers-by.
Many activists said they didn’t know who was behind the campaign and weren’t sure what to make of the call to protest, which first circulated Saturday on the U.S.-based Chinese-language news website Boxun.com.
The unsigned notice called for a “Jasmine Revolution” — the name given to the Tunisian protest movement — and urged people “to take responsibility for the future.” Participants were urged to shout, “We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness” — a slogan that highlights common complaints among Chinese.
China’s authoritarian government is ever alert for domestic discontent and has appeared unnerved by protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya. It has limited media reports about them, stressing the instability caused by the protests, and restricted Internet searches to keep Chinese uninformed about Middle Easterners’ grievances against their autocratic rulers.
Though there are many similarities between the complaints voiced by Middle East citizens and the everyday troubles of Chinese, Beijing’s tight grip on the country’s media, Internet and other communication forums poses difficulties for anyone trying to organize mass demonstrations.
Police stepped up their presence near major public squares and canceled holidays for officers across 20 cities in response to the protest appeal, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported.
Extensive Internet filtering and monitoring meant that most Chinese were unlikely to know about the call to protest Sunday. Boxun.com is blocked, as are Twitter and Facebook, which were instrumental in Egypt’s protest movement. Tech-savvy Chinese can circumvent controls, but few of the country’s Internet users seek out politically subversive content.
Anti-government gatherings in China are routinely stamped out by its pervasive security forces, which are well-funded and well-equipped. A pro-democracy movement in 1989 that directly challenged the Communist government was crushed by the military and hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed.
On Saturday, President Hu Jintao ordered national and provincial officials to “solve prominent problems which might harm the harmony and stability of the society.”
One person sitting in the McDonald’s after the brief protest in Beijing said he saw Sunday’s gathering as a dry run.
“Lots of people in here are Twitter users and came to watch like me,” said 42-year-old Hu Di. “Actually this didn’t have much organization, but it’s a chance to meet each other. It’s like preparing for the future.”
With foot traffic always heavy at the Wangfujing pedestrian mall, it was difficult to discern who showed up to protest, who came to watch and who was out shopping. Many wondered if there was a celebrity in the area because of the heavy police presence and dozens of foreign reporters and news cameras.
As the crowd swelled and police urged people to move on, 25-year-old Liu Xiaobai placed a white jasmine flower on a planter in front of the McDonald’s and took some photos with his cell phone.
“I’m quite scared because they took away my phone. I just put down some white flowers, what’s wrong with that?” Liu said afterward. “I’m just a normal citizen and I just want peace.”
Security agents tried to take away Liu, but he was swarmed by journalists and eventually was seen walking away with a friend.
Two other people were taken away by police, including a shabbily dressed old man who was cursing and shouting, though it wasn’t clear if he was there because of the online call to protest.
In Shanghai, three young men were taken away from outside a Starbucks coffee shop in People’s Square by police, who refused to answer reporters’ questions about why they were detained. They trio had been shouting complaints about the government and that food prices are too high.
A couple dozen older people were drawn to the commotion and started voicing their own complaints and saying they wanted democracy and the right to vote. One woman jumped up on a roadside cement block to shout, “The government are all hooligans,” then ran off, only to return a bit later and shout again at the police and others crowded in the area before once again scampering away.
Security officials were relaxed toward the retirees and the crowd eventually drifted away.
There were no reports of protests in other cities where people were urged to gather, such as Guangzhou, Tianjin, Wuhan and Chengdu.
Ahead of the planned protests, human rights groups estimated that anywhere from several dozen to more than 100 activists in cities across China were detained by police, confined to their homes or were missing. Families and friends reported the detention or harassment of several dissidents, and some activists said they were warned not to participate.
On Sunday, searches for “jasmine” were blocked on China’s largest Twitter-like microblog, and status updates with the word on popular Chinese social networking site Renren.com were met with an error message and a warning to refrain from postings with “political, sensitive … or other inappropriate content.”
A text messaging service from China Mobile was unavailable in Beijing on Sunday due to an upgrade, according to a customer service operator for the leading service provider, who did not know how long the suspension would last. In the past, Chinese authorities have suspended text messaging in politically tense areas to prevent organizing.
Boxun.com said its website was attacked Saturday after it posted the call to protest. A temporary site, on which users were reporting heavy police presence in several cities, was up and running Sunday. The site said in a statement it had no way of verifying the origins of the campaign.
Associated Press writers Cara Anna and Charles Hutzler in Beijing and Elaine Kurtenbach in Shanghai contributed to this report.
By Juliet Ye & Jason Dean| The Wall Street Journal | November 21, 2010
SHANGHAI—Organizers were forced to cancel an annual blogging conference in Shanghai this weekend under pressure from authorities, the latest sign of tightening limits in China on free expression.
The Chinese Blogger Conference has attracted dozens of prominent online commentators, entrepreneurs, digital artists and others each year since it was started in Shanghai in 2005. Many of the attendees are critical of government censorship, so the event is considered potentially sensitive.
This year, organizers waited until four days ahead of the two-day conference’s planned start on Saturday to announce the venue, an office building in Shanghai’s Xuhui District, near Shanghai Jiaotong University. But the planned hosts reneged late last week owing to pressure from authorities not to let their venue be used for the conference, according to one of the organizers.
It couldn’t be determined which arm of the government was responsible. A person who answered the phone Sunday at Shanghai’s cultural affairs bureau, which oversees events being held in the city, declined to comment.
China’s government has steadily stepped up efforts in recent years to curb free expression on the Internet, which has more than 420 million users in China—the most of any nation.
Earlier this month, a Chinese court handed down a prison sentence of two-and-a-half years to Zhao Lianhai for using the Internet to organize support for parents of children sickened in a tainted-milk scandal. The court found him guilty of inciting social disorder. The winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xiaobo, was sentenced last Christmas to 11 years in prison for helping write a manifesto calling for political reforms that was circulated over the Internet.
Blogging is enormously popular in China. As of the end of last year, 145 million Internet users there had blogs or other such personal pages that they had updated within the previous six months, according to the government-backed China Internet Network Information Center.
While the vast majority of content on such pages is apolitical, blogs have also been used for sometimes hard-hitting social commentary. And although Twitter is blocked to Internet users in China, similar Chinese microblogging services have become popular ways to spread sensitive information.
Microblogging was to be one of the key subjects of discussion at this year’s blogging conference. The annual conference had come to be a symbol of the clever ways many Internet users evade Chinese censors. Organizers moved it to a different city each year to make it harder for authorities to quash. Last year, bloggers met by a cave near a remote city in southern Guangdong province to avoid possible problems.
After learning that their venue had been canceled this year, organizers posted a notice on their website blaming “well-known reasons” and said they were looking for an alternative. Then on Saturday, the conference’s home page was stripped of content, with a message saying “Website Suspended.” As of late Sunday, no new venue had materialized.
Isaac Mao, a venture capitalist and software architect who co-founded the conference, said that while pressure from authorities had “upset the original scheme of this year’s conference,” bloggers who came to Shanghai for it could “still find ways to gather in smaller groups.”
Meanwhile, organizers found a way to poke fun at censors: when visitors to the conference’s censored home page pressed Ctrl-A—the common computer command for “select all”—it highlighted previously hidden text that read, in Chinese, “The grass mud horse has been harmonized.” Grass mud horse is a famous anticensorship pun in China’s Internet world—its characters form a homophone for an obscene phrase—and “harmonize” is a euphemism for censorship, playing off President Hu Jintao’s longstanding campaign to create a “harmonious society.”
By Damian Grammaticas | BBC News | November 18, 2010
A woman in China has been sentenced to a year in a labour camp after posting a message on the social networking website Twitter.
The fiance of human rights activist Cheng Jianping told the BBC she had been accused of disrupting social order, but her message had been a joke.
She had repeated a Twitter comment urging nationalist protesters to smash Japan’s pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, adding the words “Charge, angry youth”.
Twitter is banned in China.
However, many people use it by circumventing internet controls.
The offending online “tweet”, which has landed 46-year-old Cheng Jianping with a year of re-education through labour, was posted in the middle of last month.
At the time, China and Japan were embroiled in their worst diplomatic row in recent years over a group of uninhabited, but disputed, islands in the East China Sea.
Groups of young Chinese had been demonstrating against Japan, publicly smashing Japanese products.
Cheng Jianping’s fiance, Hua Chunhui, told the BBC he first posted the short message on Twitter, ridiculing the demonstrators, saying their actions were nothing new and if they really wanted to make an impact they should smash the Japanese Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo.
Ms Cheng then “retweeted” the mocking message, he said, forwarding it and adding the words “charge, angry youth”.
Ten days later she was detained by police “for disrupting social order” and has now been sent to the Shibali River women’s labour camp in Zhengzhou city in Henan Province.
Mr Hua said his fiance had started a hunger strike and he was trying to get her released to undergo her re-education at home.
Contacted by the BBC, staff at the camp said they had no information to give.
But Mr Hua said documents from the labour re-education committee made it clear Ms Cheng had been committed because of her single “tweet”.
Another Twitter user has now tweeted that Ms Cheng should apply for a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, because the five words she added to the message had cost her a year of freedom.
Her detention is a sign of how closely China’s government scrutinises comment on the internet.
The authorities are fearful of the power of the internet to stir up discontent.
They are also wary of the way nationalist demonstrations like those targeting Japan have the potential to run out of control.
Ms Cheng may also have been targeted because she is a local human rights activist.
Her fiance said she had signed petitions including one calling for the release of China’s jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
And she had been detained by police for five days in August this year after she voiced support for Liu Xianbin, a long-time campaigner for democracy in China, involved in the protests that preceded the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
Liu Xianbin had been detained again this year, apparently suspected of inciting subversion of state power for criticising China’s Communist Party.
By Keith Bradsher | New York Times | November 16, 2010
HONG KONG — Google has released a policy paper contending that China violates its World Trade Organization commitments by limiting Chinese Internet users’ access to information providers outside China. The assertion, which was published online Monday but went largely unnoticed until bloggers started writing about it Tuesday, is the latest sign of Google’s ever greater willingness to confront censorship in China.
“Invocation of W.T.O. rules suggests that Google is fed up, and willing to play hardball,” said James Seymour, a specialist in Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Bob Boorstin, Google’s public policy director, made the free-trade link forcefully in a posting on Google’s public policy blog, although he stopped short of mentioning China specifically.“It’s pretty wonky stuff,” he wrote in a statement posted on the blog with a link to the paper, “but the premise is simple: In addition to infringing human rights, governments that block the free flow of information on the Internet are also blocking trade and economic growth.”Mr. Boorstin went on to call for Western officials to challenge trade barriers to information. “In the paper we’re releasing today, we urge policy makers in the United States, European Union and elsewhere to take steps to break down barriers to free trade and Internet commerce,” Mr. Boorstin wrote.The policy paper said that more than 40 governments around the world now restrict freedom of information on the Internet — which it said was more than a 10-fold increase in the last decade of governments with such restrictions. Many of the examples of restrictions came from Google’s experience in China.Until January, accommodating China’s policy, Google censored search results delivered to computers in China. Stepping back from that approach, the company in March curtailed its operations in China and began directing Internet users there to its site in Hong Kong. A former British colony, Hong Kong maintains freedom of speech and other individual liberties despite its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.Since March, Google has continued to lobby Beijing, with little success, for unfettered access to the Chinese market.Even before it pulled out of the mainland, Google was losing market share to a Chinese rival, Baidu. And it has lost further market share since then. The latest industry estimates suggest that Google, which before March had about one-third of the mainland market for Internet searches, now has only about one-fifth, with Baidu having the rest.Kaiser Kuo, the director of international communications for Baidu, said that it was wrong to suggest that China’s controls on the Internet were unfairly helping his company.“Google no longer incurs the costs of censorship that we continue to incur; those costs include not only hardware, software and manpower but most importantly the time of our very senior managers,” Mr. Kuo said. “We should not labor under the illusion that censorship is some sort of competitive advantage to Baidu.”Google’s public policy paper emphasized that when the W.T.O. was created in 1995, international free trade rules were broadened in many ways to cover services like Internet search providers. But Chinese officials have consistently said that their commercial policies comply fully with all W.T. O. rules.Google joins a growing chorus of critics of China on trade grounds. The Obama administration opened a broad investigation last month of whether China had violated W.T.O. rules by reportedly subsidizing exports of solar panels, wind turbines and other clean energy products.
Keith Bradsher reported from Hong Kong and Sharon LaFraniere reported from Beijing.
By Adrian Addison | AFP | November 5, 2010
HONG KONG (AFP) – The tentacles of government censors are creeping ever further across the web in the Asia-Pacific region as officials from Thailand to Australia try to control what people say and do online. Aside from China, which has a vast army of censors operating behind what has been dubbed the “Great Firewall”, other countries are also taking steps to restrict access to the Internet.
A massive cyber attack has crippled the web in military-ruled Myanmar ahead of Sunday’s controversial election, IT experts say, raising fears of a deliberate communications blackout for the vote. But moves to rein in Internet freedoms in other countries in the region are often presented as being well intentioned.
Australia proposes introducing an Internet filter to block sites containing material such as rape, drug use, bestiality and child sex abuse. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has defended the plan as a moral move which will bring the web into line with TV and film which have long been censored by the state.
“My fundamental outlook is this: it is unlawful for me as an adult to go to a cinema and watch certain sorts of content, it’s unlawful and we believe it to be wrong,” Gillard said recently. “If we accept that then it seems to me that the moral question is not changed by the medium that the images come through.”
Yet the plan has been heavily criticised as setting a precedent for censorship and has even been attacked by web giants Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft. Australian anti-censorship campaigner Geordie Guy said while the filter was not designed to control political dissent it was a case of the state “putting its foot down on what the population can see”.
In another Asia-Pacific democracy, the Philippines, several bills have been filed seeking restrictions on the Internet, mainly focused on pornography and the trafficking of women.
And in Thailand, a wide-ranging campaign of government censorship has shut down thousands of Internet sites. It is a reflection of the deep political divide in the country, where 91 people died and nearly 1,900 were hurt in clashes between Red Shirts and troops during two months of protests, which ended with a bloody army crackdown in May. Thousands of web pages have also been removed in recent years on the grounds that they were insulting to the Thai royal family.
In April, a Red Shirt sympathiser was arrested and charged for allegedly insulting the monarchy on Facebook — a serious crime punishable by up to 15 years in jail. He remains in detention awaiting possible trial. The editor of the popular Prachatai website could face up to 70 years in jail after she was arrested on charges of insulting the monarchy and breaching computer law — for comments posted by users of the site.
John Palfrey, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, says online censorship and surveillance are growing around the world.
“This increase in control is taking place concurrently with the growth of the role that the Internet and digital media are playing in the ways that people live and societies function,” he told AFP.
“Oftentimes, these online controls grow out of well-meaning online protections designed to help keep children safe. But the same mechanisms that we use to keep our children from unwanted content and contact can be used to keep dissidents from communicating with one another or with the world outside their own society. The tools that prevent harmful forms of pornography from being published can also keep a political manifesto from reaching its intended audience. The same tools that bring a terrorist to justice before he can harm his targets can also be used to put a muck-raking journalist in prison for something that she said in an email or a web chat.”
Sometimes calls for censorship of the Internet are for religious reasons.
Hundreds of Indonesian Islamists rallied in central Jakarta in June to demand the stoning to death and public caning of celebrities who allegedly appeared in homemade sex videos circulating online. About 1,000 protesters led by radical group Hizbut Tahrir shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greater) and brandished black flags and banners with slogans such as “Arrest those who commit promiscuous sex”. Hizbut Tahrir spokesman Mohammed Ismail Yusanto said the Internet was a threat to Islamic values in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
“The widespread circulation of the celebrity sex videos shows the bad side of uncontrolled information technology, which will surely become one of the most terrible destroyers of morality,” he said. “Based on sharia law… those who are married should be stoned to death and the unmarried should be caned 100 times in public. With that kind of punishment it is guaranteed promiscuous sex won’t spread wildly like it is now.”
Radical groups like Hizbut Tahrir have little popular support among Indonesia’s 240 million people in a state which is constitutionally secular and culturally moderate. But President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has backed calls for tighter controls on the Internet in response to the sex video furore and has warned that the nation risked being “crushed” by the information technology “frenzy”.
While China is a major censor of the Internet in the region, communist Vietnam has also cracked down, arresting bloggers who have criticised the government’s relationship with Beijing. “Some of the most advanced forms of Internet censorship and surveillance are carried out in Vietnam, following the lead of neighbouring China,” said Harvard University’s Palfrey.
“Over the next five to ten years, I see an escalating struggle between states that wish to control the information environment and citizens who wish to communicate privately and freely with one another. I expect that we will see substantial growth in the ability of states to listen in on conversations online.”
AFP | November 1, 2010
HONG KONG — Amazon’s Kindle 3G e-reader is being snapped up on China’s grey market as it has an extra special advantage for customers — it automatically leaps the so-called “Great Firewall” of state web censorship.
Sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which are blocked by the Beijing authorities, can be accessed without interference by the Kindle’s Internet browsing function, the South China Morning Post reported Monday.
Amazon says it is not able to ship the Kindle to mainland China or offer content in the country, which has the world’s largest Internet community at more than 420 million web users, the Post reported.
But a seller in Beijing told the paper he slipped them into China a few at a time after having them delivered to an address outside the mainland. He has sold 300 in the past month.
AFP found dozens of Kindles available on web auction site Taobao, China’s answer to eBay, with prices ranging from a special offer of 700 yuan (105 dollars) to 5,000 yuan.
Several Chinese bloggers are recommending the device, according to the paper, largely due to the fact it can “scale the wall automatically”.
“I still can’t believe it. I casually tried getting to Twitter, and what a surprise, I got there,” the paper quoted a mainland blogger as saying.
“And then I quickly tried Facebook, and it perfectly presented itself. Am I dreaming? No, I pinched myself and it hurt.”
The 3G Kindle uses global system mobile (GSM) communication technology, which gives WiFi coverage in more than 100 countries, including China. The WiFi-only Kindle would rely on a local Internet connection.
Professor Lawrence Yeung Kwan, of the University of Hong Kong’s electrical and electronic engineering department, told the paper that mainland Internet patrols might have overlooked the gadget.
“Every Kindle device is pre-registered to a personal account, so every user’s information is clear,” he said.
“In addition, Kindle has a book-buying focus, so the censors may think these connections are relatively safe.”
The Kindle has its own network, called Amazon Whispernet, to provide wireless coverage via AT&T’s 3G data network in the US and partner networks in the rest of the world.
A 3G wireless coverage map on Amazon’s website includes numerous Chinese cities, suggesting its 3G link involves a Chinese carrier, the paper said.
AFP | October 14, 2010
BEIJING — Beijing city officials are being trained to use China’s fast-growing social media scene in the latest government move to guide and monitor public opinion, state media said Thursday.
The city’s Communist Party school is offering the training to “bureau-level leading cadres” to help “leaders catch up with Internet currents”, the Legal Evening News said.
The training will “raise cadres’ understanding of information dissemination, and social and public sentiment in order to better respond to sudden crises,” it said.
Chinese blogs, chat rooms and other sites have become lively outlets for expression in a country where traditional media are tightly controlled and where activists say freedom of speech is curtailed.
In particular, Twitter-like micro-blogging sites have grown fast, with tens of millions of people believed to have opened accounts in the past year alone.
The training at the Beijing party school — which is separate from the Communist Party’s national-level school, also based in Beijing — will focus on micro-blogging, the news report said.
It will include “what is micro-blogging; how to browse blogs and micro-blogs; what is MSN all about; which BBS (bulletin board system) sites and posts are most popular; and which search engines to use to find hot topics in society”.
These subjects “have all become knowledge that leaders must cram on,” it said. It lauded leaders who have “acted to set up their own blogs and issued blog entries”.
China operates a vast censorship system, deleting Web content considered a possible challenge to the ruling Communist Party, such as mentions of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded last week to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo.
But it has also worked to stay ahead of the curve by harnessing online and social media as propaganda tools.
Some local governments have set up micro-blog accounts to get their message out, and the central government recently set up a website for citizens to express their views to the nation’s top leaders.
Chinese web users frequently refer to the “50 cent army”, rumoured to be a group of freelance propagandists who post pro-Communist Party entries on blogs and websites, posing as ordinary members of the public.