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China 16 September 2002

Google back online, Altavista remains blocked

Access to Google from China has been restored since 12 September. The search engine is still being selectively censored, however, with links to sites dealing with sensitive issues such as Tibet, the Falun Gong or President Jiang Zemin and his likely successor Hu Jintao remaining blocked. According to specialists, the widespread outcry that greeted the suspension of access to Google, as well as pressure from business interests, are the reasons for this about-face. "The Ministry has not received any information about the blocking of Google, and we know nothing about the restoration of access either," stated a spokesman from the Ministry of Information Industries. It is stilll not possible to access Altavista and dozens of other sites.

Internet users in China face a concerted new effort by the authorities to control their access to websites. After a total ban since the beginning of this month on access to major search-engines Google and Altavista, selective blocking of other sites has now increased. These sites remain accessible, but specific articles on them, such as those about President Jiang Zemin, cannot be seen. The new measures have not been announced and government officials refuse to confirm their existence. A US expert quoted by the Associated Press (AP) said the new system "shows in great clarity" the government’s "dedication to restricting access to content they deem undesirable, inappropriate or simply illegal." An official of the ISP Shanghai Online told the AP that the company had been deluged with complaints about the blocking of access to Google and Altavista.

Since 7 September, Internet users in China attempting to access Google are being automatically redirected towards Chinese search engines, in particular Tianwang or Baidu. This operation appears to have been put in place by the Internet service providers run by the state telephone company China Telecom, on the orders of the Department for Public Security, which is in charge of controlling the Internet. According to the South China Morning Post, experts in Beijing have condemned what they described as a "violation of international rules on the sovereignty of Internet sites".

Reporters Without Borders today called on the Chinese government to stop blocking access to the Google search engine, which has been unavailable to Internet users in China since 31 August.

"The authorities were already in the habit of using surveillance, censorship or the outright elimination of overly critical web sites, but the blocking of a search engine sets a surprising and very worrying precedent", Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan. "This move against Google strikes at the very ability to find information on the Internet", the letter said.

Google had become very popular in China because of its ease of use and effectiveness as a search engine in the Chinese language. Many participants in online forums have spoken out against the blocking of Google, pointing out that they used it for research, not politics. The authorities have refused to make any comment.

Google’s representatives have said they have been in contact with the Chinese authorities in an attempt to get the ban lifted. Media specialists in China suggest that the ban may be related to the approach of the Communist Party’s annual congress in November and other signs of an increase in censorship by a government more than usually anxious to silence any dissident voices.

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
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