[LINK] Guardian (UK) - China blocks internet explosion
Wed, 2 Feb 2000 03:08:07 +1100 (EST)
A story on attempts by China to censor the Internet, further to
my recent posting, this time from the Guardian. There is also
some information on attempts to censor the Internet by other
Asian countries too.
If you want to access the Guardian site you will have to
China blocks internet explosion
Secret checkers to be used to control online activity as regime
John Gittings in Hong Kong and Patrick Barkham
Thursday January 27, 2000
Beijing has imposed tough new controls on the country's
estimated 9m internet users, banning them from publishing "state
secrets" on the web. The catch is that no one in China can be
entirely sure what is or is not a secret.
Human rights observers said it was the most swingeing clampdown
the world has known on the free use of cyberspace. The new
regulations, announced in yesterday's Communist party newspaper,
say that "all organisations and individuals are forbidden from
releasing, discussing or transferring state secret information
on bulletin boards, chat rooms or in internet newsgroups".
Interpreting the new rules could prove a very difficult task in
a political culture where the limits of secrecy are never
defined. The term can cover economic statistics and political
news as well as military information. With the press still
controlled largely by the Communist party, it is often hard to
determine what has been published officially; the only definite
criterion for what is not a "state secret".
Any electronic links between domestic and foreign websites are
also covered by the ban, "whether direct or indirect" - raising
fears that the use of the internet to connect political groups
with the outside world will also be suppressed. China has
already blocked access to some foreign websites including the
BBC Online service, but users are continually finding mirror
sites which can evade the restrictions.
Observers expressed alarm yesterday at the scale of the Chinese
clampdown. Andrew Puddephatt, director of the freedom of
expression campaign Article 19, said that up to now the internet
had been allowed to exist in most countries relatively free of
"Any attempt by any government to impose censorship of the kind
commonly applied to newspapers and television networks around
the world must be regarded as a very dangerous precedent," he
Beijing leaders, from President Jiang Zemin downwards, became
anxious last year when sensitive and supposedly secret
information surfaced on several Chinese websites. The launch of
China's first unmanned spacecraft in November was revealed on a
domestic website two days before it actually took place. The
unauthorised report even gave details of the spacecraft's
planned return to earth in Inner Mongolia.
Other embarrassing breaches of security included sites which
published details about China's naval ship-building programme
and information about new aircraft construction. Most of these
lapses appear to originate from computer fanatics who have no
political motive but want to show they are well-informed.
An engineer at a space centre is said to have used a picture of
a secret workshop as an illustration on his own website. A
technician at the Shanghai Jiangnan shipyard ended up in court
after bragging that his yard was making China's first aircraft
The regime's fears about the growth of internet culture in China
extends to religious groups organising themselves through
cyberspace. Mr Jiang suspects that the banned Falun Gong cult,
which believes it can prolong life through breathing exercises,
used the internet to mobilise thousands of its members for a
silent demonstration last April in Beijing.
Mr Jiang is also well aware that President Bill Clinton and
other US leaders, including the secretary of state Madeleine
Albright, have hailed the internet as a way of "opening up"
China to foreign ideas.
The authorities' concern is heightened by the rapid surge in
China's internet use, which grew by more than four times last
year. The number of individual online users increased from from
2.1m in December 1998 to 8.9m last month and is forecast to
double this year to 20m.
A recent survey shows that about half surf the net from their
homes. Previously most users went online from internet cafes or
at work where monitoring is easier. Half of all users live in
Beijing but access is spreading and the first internet cafe has
just opened in Lhasa, capital of Tibet.
The clampdown will create a new breed of locally-created
censors. Every website or large organisation with computer links
to the internet must now employ its own monitors, dubbed
"secrecy checkers", to make sure nothing which the government
defines as a secret is published.
The new regulations, like all other internal Chinese
legislation, do not apply in Hong Kong. But Beijing is concerned
that "secret" information transmitted from China is then
"re-broadcast" back to the mainland where it may even be picked
by official newspapers.
The new regulations also prohibit China's domestic websites from
hiring reporters to generate their own news content. "I don't
think news will be completely banned from the websites," said an
independent website manager from Shanghai who was quoted
yesterday by the Shanghai Daily. "What the government really
wants is to curb unauthorised news."
Users are in the dark as to what penalties Beijing will apply to
those who break the new restrictions. Offending websites are
likely to be closed down.
In recent months the Chinese government has closed down several
newspapers as a punishment for printing "sensational stories"
and "articles with political errors". Some journalists have also
been sent to prison for publishing "state secrets".
The slow spread of cyber suppression
The Burmese authorities announced a ban on using the internet to
disseminate political information last week.
It forbade emails and other information published on the
internet deemed "detrimental to the government". Those found
spreading such information will join the 13 journalists
currently in Burmese jails.
The watchdog group Reporters Sans Frontières says internet
access is severely curtailed in Burma. A month ago, two local,
privately owned internet service providers (ISPs) were shut
down. The only ISP left is the government-operated Myanmar Posts
The country's 1996 computer law decrees that only those with
official authorisation can use the internet. A cybercafe opened
in the capital Rangoon last year, but it offered no access to
Internet newsgroups and websites were used to mobilise support
for East Timor's battle for independence both inside and outside
A year ago, an Irish-based ISP was forced to shut down after the
East Timorese site it was hosting was bombarded by cyber
"terrorists". The Indonesian government was implicated in the
attack on the website.
The Jordanian government maintains that "there is no blocking or
censoring by the government of the content of any websites or of
electronic communications via newsgroups, email or other
Jordanians have used the internet to access foreign newspapers
banned in Jordan, but Human Rights Watch has found evidence of
state suppression of online political activity.
Last October, two university students were arrested for trying
to launch a website to "combat normalisation" of relations with
Israel. The Jordan Times wrote: "It is somewhat worrying that
the authorities were not more forthcoming in describing the
nature of the students' offences in creating the website."
Email and newsgroups were widely used by students in the 1998
uprisings against the Malaysian government.
Four people were arrested that year and charged with spreading
email rumours about riots in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
In December 1998, the government ruled that cybercafes must
record all people who use their computers. The government vowed
that the police would examine all internet postings in the
But there are signs that Malaysia is relaxing its internet
regulations. Last spring the prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad,
announced that internet access would be free from censorship.
Last August, a Sri Lankan government minister admitted
intercepting an email sent to the leader of the country's
opposition from the British advertising company, Saatchi &
Saatchi. The science and technology minister, Batty Weerakoon,
admitted he handed the email to the state-run media.
The opposition said the incident was typical of the government's
snooping on private emails between politicians, journalists and
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