Press group slams Chinese online censorship

Tens of thousands of cyber-police monitor the activities of Chinese Internet users, according to a report by Reporters Without Borders released this week.

Tens of thousands of cyber-police monitor the activities of Chinese Internet users, according to a report by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released Wednesday.

RSF compiled the report in cooperation with Chinese Human Rights Defenders and an anonymous "Chinese technician working in the Internet sector." It alleged that China is the only country that employs tens of thousands of cyber-police to watch the Internet activities of its citizens, including special sections of every local Public Security Bureau.

The 17-page "Journey to the heart of Internet censorship" also stated that editors and reporters at leading Chinese news sites, including those operated by popular portals Sohu.com and Netease.com, are often informed by SMS not to write about certain topics, or to rely only on specific news sources, such as reports by the state-run Xinhua News Agency. This included reporting on accusations of labor abuse against the Guangdong province operations of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry, which operates under the brand Foxconn and manufactures iPods for Apple. The story was originally reported by the British newspaper Mail on Sunday, but was quickly picked up by Chinese media.

Orders not to publish or report are often issued by the Beijing Internet Information Administrative Bureau. The report includes several examples of these orders from 2006, attributed to BIIAB deputy directors Chen Hua and Fan Tao, respectively.

Employees of the top 19 Beijing-based news sites attend a meeting every Friday morning from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the BIIAB, to listen to a critique of the week's news and possibly receive criticism from authorities, the report said. RSF did not name the sites, although later in the report it included a list of 20 Beijing-based leading commercial sites, including those of Sohu, Sina, and Netease.

A Sina spokesperson declined to comment on the report. A representative of Sohu could not be reached for comment.

The report also referred to censorship techniques used to block access to Web sites, such as keyword blocking, but did not elaborate on what technology might be used to carry out the blocking.

Chinese government action against online dissent and those using the Internet to disseminate anti-government views is well documented. Despite public declarations that the country is becoming more open in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, numerous foreign Web sites are blocked, including the repeated blocking and unblocking of Wikipedia's English and Chinese sites, blocking of the caching feature on Google's search engine, and denying access to the BBC's English news and Chinese news sites. Internet users attempting to reach those sites are told that the connection has timed out. "The server at news.bbc.co.uk is taking too long to respond," was the response generated when that site was requested from Beijing this week.

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Steven Schwankert

IDG News Service

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