How Widespread is Censorship in China?

Wed Feb. 15, 2006 3:05 PM EST

While Google and Microsoft continue to be subject to scrutiny over their censorship of web content in China, the Chinese government claimed yesterday that their internet access is not all that different from the United States. According to Liu Zhengrong, the government internet official, "If you study the main international practices in this regard you will find that China is basically in compliance with the international norm. The main purposes and methods of implementing our laws are basically the same."

Zhengrong noted that major American publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post claim that they have their own authority to delete stories and topic threads. Zhengrong acknowledged that the Chinese government operates a firewall to censor "harmful content," stressing the importance of protecting children from nasty sites containing pornography. Additionally, he added that individuals have complete freedom to question politically sensitive material, and it's really just a "tiny percentage" of websites that are restricted in mainland China.

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But that doesn't take into account the new restrictions adopted in China last September that bans any internet content that "divulges state secrets," "jeopardizes the integrity of the nation's unity," "harms the honor or interests of the nation," or "propagates evil cults." Also banned are websites that encourage "illegal" gatherings, and "illegal civil demonstrations." Tiananmen Square anyone?

Because legitimate news sources, or "news work units," must be approved by the People's Republic, that means news content on all other websites, bulletin boards and blogs are considered illegitimate. And that means that the government has the authority to condemn any material that contradicts what has been established as sanctioned news. And ta-dah! Officials from the People's Republic of China can then say that all they're doing is "closely monitor(ing) the spread of illegal information."

Although Zhengrong denied assertions that individuals have suffered jail sentences resulting from the dissemination of information against the government, a 2005
study examining violence against journalists reveals that:

  • China boasts the largest number of "cyber dissidents" in prison (62). These are internet users and bloggers whose activity has been tracked and deemed harmful.
  • China has the largest number of imprisoned journalists (32), such as journalist Yu Dongyue, who is serving an 18 year sentence for spreading "counter-revolutionary propaganda" after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
  • However, in regards to our current political landscape, nothing is more disturbing than China's praise for the Bush administration's monitoring of email and phone traffic in an attempt to inhibit the circulation of "harmful information." As they say, imitation is the finest form of flattery.

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