According to the daily Shanghai Times, the authorities in Shanghai are moving to shut down any Internet bars that do not have a licence, which means more than half of the establishments in the city. In Tianjin (in the north of the country), the local authorities initiated a tour of inspection of Internet bars on 17 June. And Guangdong province has temporarily suspended the issuing of licences. According to the state press agency Xinhua, the Hong Kong authorities also intend to close down unlicensed Internet bars and to bar anyone under sixteen from entering these establishments.
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) is worried about the consequences for Chinese netsurfers of the closure of more than two thousand Internet bars in Beijing. ’We are aware of the intense emotion caused by the deadly fire in Lanjisu, but nevertheless feel it is questionable to close, even temporarily, bars holding licenses’, declared Robert Ménard, General Secretary of the organisation.
’Forcing Internet bars complying with safety standards to ask for a new license is above all a means for the authorities to restrict Internet access’, added Mr Ménard.
Reporters Without Borders asked the mayor of Beijing, Liu Qi, to authorise, as soon as possible, the re-opening of Internet bars recognised by the municipality, without them having to re-apply for a new license.
The municipality of Beijing announced on 16 June 2002 the closure of all the capital’s Internet bars. This decision follows the fire that broke out in the night of 15 June in an Internet bar in Lanjisu (university district in the north of Beijing). The bar in question had been open for a just a month, was operating without a license, and had only one exit accessible by a narrow staircase. Twenty-four students perished in the flames.
Shortly after the catastrophe, Liu Qi, mayor of Beijing, ordered the immediate closure of the some two thousand four hundred Internet bars in the city, two hundred of which nevertheless held licenses. He also suspended applications for licenses pending safety inspections. ’From now on, Beijing will not encourage the development of Internet bars’, he declared. Only Internet bars in order with the authorities will be allowed to re-open after having asked for a new license.
As part of a campaign combating ’harmful Internet contents’ launched on 1 May 2001, the Shanghai police had closed nearly two hundred Internet bars in the city. The Trade and Industry Bureau had judged ’socially very effective’ the closure of Internet bars not holding licenses.
According to the official media, two hundred thousand Internet bars were listed at the end of April in China, and seventeen thousand had been close for ’illegal activities’.