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China 26 September 2005

The 11 commandments of the Internet in China

A study published by OpenNet on 5 July contains an interesting analysis of a law introduced last September to regulate online activity which Reporters Without Borders at the time dubbed the “11 Commandments of the Internet.” OpenNet explains how the law makes it impossible to set up an independent news website.

The law distinguishes between three kinds of informational websites. The first encompasses authorised sites with a government licence which just republish news and information already disseminated by the official media. They must be registered with the authorities and obey the “11 commandments” and must not make any changes to the articles they reproduce.

The second category consists of sites that carry not only reports from official sources but also reports and information that is only posted on the Internet and which they gather in an independent fashion. These sites must only cover subjects for which they have been officially accredited and must employ at least five full-time editors with at least three years’ experience with an official news agency. These restrictions above all concern Chinese web portals such as Sina.com and Sohu.com.

The third category comprises all other sites. They are not only subject to the restrictions imposed on the first two categories but are also banned from publishing articles based on information which they themselves have gathered. They must employ at least 10 editors of whom five must have at least three years’ experience with an official news agency, and they must be registered by an entity with at least 10 million yuan (about 1 million euros) in capital.

The full text in chinese


"You shall not spread rumours", "You shall not damage state security”, “You shall not destroy the country’s reputation”. There are just three of the 11 commandments ordered by Beijing, on 25 September, aimed at bloggers and websites managers.

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern at this latest turn of the screw in an ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression.

"The Chinese authorities never seem to let up on their desire to regulate the Web and their determination to control information available on it ever more tightly,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

“These new rules, announced with a fanfare by the official media, are certainly more intended to frighten Internet-users than to codify the use of the Net,” it said. “In fact there is nothing really new in these 11 commandments, which simply repeat that the party has the monopoly of the dissemination of information and that the media’s task is not to be objective but to relay state propaganda.

“These moves to filter the Internet are nevertheless a sign that the Internet frightens those in power, in particular during a period of ever greater social unrest. It’s noticeable that the only new elements in the text relate to banning the calling of strikes or gatherings though the Net,” it said.

The new rules, ordered by the state council information bureau and ministry of industry and information, are aimed at bringing into line all previous such edicts. According to the Chinese daily Beijing news (thebeijingnews.com), it contains 11 subjects forbidden to online editors.

They are banned from putting out news that:
-  violates the basic principles of the Chinese constitution:
-  endangers national security, leaks national secrets, seeks to overthrow the government, endangers the unification of the country;
-  destroys the country’s reputation and benefits;
-  arouses national feelings of hatred, racism, and endangers racial unification;
-  violates national policies on religion, promotes the propaganda of sects and superstition; [Reporters Without Borders note: More than 30 members of the spiritual Falungong movement are currently behind bars for posting news on the Internet]
-  diffuses rumours, endangers public order and creates social uncertainty;
-  diffuses information that is pornographic, violent, terrorist or linked to gambling;
-  libels or harms people’s reputation, violates people’s legal rights;
-  includes illegal information bounded by law and administrative rules.

Two completely new bans have been added to the nine rules above:
-  It is forbidden to encourage illegal gatherings, strikes, etc to create public disorder;
-  It is forbidden to organise activities under illegal social associations or organisations.

Websites that break these new rules will be shut down and those running them will have to pay a fine that could reach 30,000 yuans (3,000 euros).

Reporters Without Borders points out that 62 people are currently imprisoned in China for having posted articles on the Internet that the authorities deemed to be “subversive”.




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