Reporters Without Borders voiced alarm today at the Chinese government’s announced intention to close down all China-based websites and blogs that are not officially registered. The plan is all the more worrying as the government has also revealed that it has a new system for monitoring sites in real time and spotting those that fail to comply.
"The Chinese authorities use this type of announcement above all to intimidate website operators and bloggers," the press freedom organisation said. "The authorities also hope to push the most outspoken online sites to migrate abroad where they will become inaccessible to those inside China because of the Chinese filtering systems."
Reporters Without Borders added: "Those who continue to publish under their real names on sites hosted in China will either have to avoid political subjects or just relay the Communist Party’s propaganda. This decision will enable those in power to control online news and information much more effectively."
The new initiative was announced in a decree issued by the ministry for the information industry (MII) on 20 March, which said all China-based websites - commercial or otherwise - would have to register by 30 June, giving the complete identity of the persons responsible for the sites. According to the authorities, the aim is to control information that "endanger the country."
According to official figures, about 75 per cent of Chinese sites have already complied with the new procedure. The Russian news agency Interfax reported that the ministry subsequently announced that a new system called "Night Crawler" (Pa Chong, in Chinese) that allows the authorities to locate and block unregistered sites would get under away at the start of June.
At the request of the authorities, the Telecom operators that host the biggest Chinese news portals informed their users that this procedure is obligatory. In May, many bloggers received e-mail messages telling them to register to avoid their blogs being declared illegal.
A China-based blogger told Reporters Without Borders on condition of anonymity that the Shanghai police recently rendered his website inaccessible because it had not been registered. He then phoned the MII to ask what he had to do in order to register, and was told that in his case it was "not worth bothering" because "there was no chance of an independent blog getting permission to publish."