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China 16 December 2008

Government goes into reverse, blocking access to foreign websites again

Reporters Without Borders condemns the Chinese government’s censorship of the websites of certain foreign news media such as Voice of America and the BBC and certain Chinese media based outside mainland China, which have been rendered inaccessible inside China since the start of December.

“Freedom of information is widely violated in China,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Right now, the authorities are gradually rolling back all the progress made in the run-up to this summer’s Olympic games, when even foreign websites in Mandarin were made accessible. The pretence of liberalisation is now over. The blocking of access to the websites of foreign news media speaks volumes about the government’s intolerance. We urge the authorities to unblock them again.”

According to the online magazine China Digital Times, the Asiaweek (http://www.yzzk.com/cfm/main.cfm) and Mingpao (http://www.mingpao.com/) websites have been inaccessible since 2 December. The Hong Kong (http://www.hk.youtube.com) and Taiwanese (http://www.tw.youtube.com) versions of the video-sharing website YouTube are also inaccessible.

Access to the BBC’s website is also restricted. According to the BBC’s technical service, web traffic has also suddenly fallen off.

Lorna Ball of the BBC’s Chinese-language service told Reporters Without Borders: “We are disappointed that Chinese-speakers are no longer able to have access to neutral and independent news through our site’s Chinese-language version. China’s inhabitants were able to access the site during the Beijing Olympic Games. Now it seems there are some difficulties [...] We are going to do everything possible to work with the Chinese authorities to restore access to our site for Chinese readers.”

The Mandarin version of the Radio France Internationale website (http://www.rfi.fr/actucn/pages/001/HomeChinois.asp) has been blocked since 17 October, the day that special regulations put in place by the Chinese authorities for the Olympic Games ceased to be effective.

The Chinese authorities have indicated that “some websites” are being blocked because of content that “violates Chinese laws.” Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told Agence France-Presse today: “I hope the websites will practice self-restriction in terms of what they publish and that they do nothing that breaks the country’s laws.”

Since 5 November, China’s Internet cafés have been required to replace all unlicensed operating systems on their computers with China’s Red Flag Linux operating system. According to Xiao Qiang of the China Internet Project at the University of Berkeley, California, this will allow the authorities to increase their surveillance of users.

Internet café clients in Beijing must now also submit to having their photo taken before they use a computer. The Internet cafés in the capital 14 most important districts have been ordered to install cameras to record the identity of users, who have to be at least 18 years old.

Reporters Without Borders added: “Despite the Internet ‘Great Wall’ built by the authorities, the recent big scandals such as Sanlu’s tainted baby formula and the mismanagement of humanitarian aid after the Sichuan earthquake were all revealed by Chinese Internet users and were widely discussed on the Chinese Internet. The Communist Party is hard put to control China’s 210 million Internet users and the latest online restrictions just highlight these difficulties.”

The Reporters Without Borders website has been inaccessible inside China since 17 September.




In this country
3 June - China
“Tank Man” photo displayed outside Chinese embassy in Paris on eve of Tiananmen Square massacre
2 June - China
All references to Tiananmen Square massacre closely censored for 20 years
12 May - China
Foreign reporters prevented from working in Sichuan a year after earthquake
24 April - China
Concern that detained Tibetan magazine editor is being tortured
25 March - China
Government blocks access to YouTube

in the annual report
China - Annual report 2008
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Mission report : A call to end violence and impunity
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Fact-finding visit by Reporters Without Borders to Swat “valley of fear”
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