Numbers of Chinese Internet-users are reporting that they can no longer connect to either the Chinese or English versions of the collaborative encyclopaedia Wikipedia. The English version was reopened on 10 October and the Chinese version was made available again only three days ago. It is not yet possible to tell whether Wikipedia is unavailable because of a change of heart by the authorities or because of technical problems.
Praise for company’s firm stand after Wikipedia made fully available again in China
The Chinese version of Wikipedia, which had been censored since October 2005, was unblocked by the authorities around 13 November 2006. This decision follows the reopening a month earlier of the English version of the collaborative online encyclopaedia.
Reporters Without Borders again congratulates the managers of Wikipedia, who have always refused to go in for self-censorship and called on other Internet giants present in China to follow their example.
“While Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft harp on about how it is impossible to negotiate with the authorities and that if they refused to censor their search engines, they would be expelled from the country, the Wikipedia example proves the contrary,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“The Chinese government is pragmatic and does not want to do without foreign businesses in the Internet sector. There is therefore obviously room for negotiation for the US companies. It is not essential to bow down before Beijing and trample on freedom of expression to do business in this country,” it added.
According to tests carried out by Andrew Lih, a Wikipedia specialist, and confirmed by Reporters Without Borders, the encyclopaedia has been unblocked by China’s main access providers. The researcher said the reopening had prompted Internet-users to post a mass of new content. He said the Chinese version of the encyclopaedia is the fastest growing after the English version.
Government unblocks access to Wikipedia’s English-language version
The blocking of access to the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia put in place by the Chinese authorities in October 2005 was partially lifted on 10 October, Reporters Without Borders said today. The English-language version is now entirely accessible including sensitive content normally censored in China, but the Chinese-language version is still blocked.
The press freedom organisation took the opportunity to hail the courage of the people in charge of Wikipedia who - unlike Google, Yahoo ! and MSN - have always refused to yield to the Chinese government’s censorship requests.
“We are now waiting for the unblocking of Wikipedia’s Chinese version, which is obviously the one that people most want to consult in China,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Unblocking just the English-language content is a hypocritical move. The government hopes thereby to appease its critics abroad while continuing to censor the information available to its own population.”
The organisation added: “We congratulate those in charge of Wikipedia, especially Jimmy Wales, who could have chosen to censor their own site to get official blessing. Instead they stuck to their principles and spurned self-censorship. Their determination has paid off inasmuch as Beijing has partially reversed its decision. It is an example that other Internet giants could follow.”
Tests conducted by Reporters Without Borders showed that Wikipedia’s English-language version was entirely unblocked, including its articles on sensitive subjects such as the Tiananmen Square events of 1989, but the Chinese-language version (http://zh.wikinews.org) is inaccessible for most people inside China.
Nonetheless, the filtering does not appear to be totally effective as people in some parts of the country such as Shanghai are managing to connect. The fact that the “Great Firewall of China” is currently being upgraded may explain the lack of homogeneity seen in the system in the past few days.
Wikipedia’s content is written, rewritten and edited by its own online users. It is currently the world’s 17th most visited website.
Online encyclopedia Wikipedia censored
Reporters Without Borders today called on the Chinese authorities to stop blocking accessing to the website of the independent online encyclopedia Wikipedia, whose popularity has been growing steadily in China. The site has been unavailable in several provinces including Shanghai since 18 October.
This latest online censorship paradoxically comes at a moment when China is openly raising the issue of democracy by publishing its first white paper entitled “The construction of political democracy in China” on 19 October.
The subjects tackled in the paper include human rights and grass-roots democracy in urban and rural areas, yet blocking the site of a free encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute is a clear violation of the right of Chinese citizens to information and it comes amid a series of new regulations adopted in recent months aimed at tightening controls on online free expression even more.
The authorities are censoring Wikipedia in the same way that they censor thousands of websites with information that strays from the official Chinese propaganda on certain issues as Tibet and human rights in China.
Internet users trying to visit the Wikipedia site since 18 October get an error message referring to temporary connection problems for unknown reasons. Wikipedia was previously blocked by the Chinese authorities in June and September 2004 because of dissident political content.
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