Reporters Without Borders condemns the holding of the 17th International World Wide Web Conference (WWW2008) in Beijing. With “One World, One Web” as its main theme, this five-day conference, which ends today, has been looking at the changing behaviour of Internet users and their participation in public affairs by means of social networks.
“Staging such a conference just a few kilometres from where Hu Jia, Shi Tao and 46 other cyber-dissidents are imprisoned is a provocation,” the press freedom organisation said. Leading Internet figures (researchers, engineers and businessmen) meet at the annual WWW2008 conferences to discuss new Internet trends and technologies.
“Among other things, the conference is about the importance of Internet users in society, how they are becoming more and more active in creating online virtual communities,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But in China, voicing one’s views online is a crime if they do not accord with what the party thinks. Nothing in the programme suggests that online freedom of expression has been tackled. But a minimum of decency and respect for China’s imprisoned cyber-dissidents would have demanded this.”
The conference is being staged jointly by Beihang university and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an alliance of 421 bodies and universities launched in 1994 that plays a leading role in Internet innovation and the adoption of new surfing techniques.
One of WWW2008’s most important sponsors is the US Internet company Yahoo!, which provided the Chinese authorities with online account information that led to the imprisonment of four Chinese cyber-dissidents.
China has more Internet users than any other country, but it holds a leading position in the Reporters Without Borders list of countries that are “Internet enemies.” More than 2,500 online discussion forums were closed down in 2007. Currently, 48 cyber-dissidents are in prison for criticising government policy or calling for democracy.