Officials Increase Censorship of Foreign and Domestic Web Sites

February 1, 2009

Chinese authorities appear to have stepped up censorship of the Internet in recent weeks with increased reports of foreign- and Hong Kong-based Web sites being blocked and the closure of a popular domestic blog hosting site for posting "harmful" political information.

Chinese authorities appear to have stepped up censorship of the Internet in recent weeks with increased reports of foreign- and Hong Kong-based Web sites being blocked and the closure of a popular domestic blog hosting site for posting "harmful" political information.

Foreign and Hong Kong Web Sites

In December 2008, foreign and Hong Kong media reported that access from within China to several foreign- and Hong Kong-based news Web sites had been blocked after having been temporarily unblocked last August around the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, according to a mid-December Yazhou Zhoukan (Asiaweek) report (in Chinese), a December 16 BBC report, and a December 17 South China Morning Post report (subscription required). The blocked Web sites include the Chinese-language sites for the BBC, Voice of America, and Deutsche Welle, YouTube's Hong Kong and Taiwan sites, and the Web sites for the Hong Kong-based news organizations Ming Pao, Asiaweek, and Apple Daily. Access to some of these sites subsequently was restored, according to a December 19 New York Times (NYT) article. Citing reports from users in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, the NYT said that access to its own Web site from within China had been blocked for more than three days, noting the absence of technical issues with the site, and no problems with accessibility from Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States, according to the December 19 article and a December 22 article. Amnesty International (Amnesty) reported on January 12, 2009, that authorities had resumed blocking its site in China after allowing access for the Olympics.

Chinese officials are able to block domestic access to foreign Web sites because they control the gateway connection between mainland China and the global Internet. Official involvement in the blocking of any particular site is difficult to confirm because officials provide little information about which sites are blocked and why a specific site has been blocked or unblocked. Sites that are blocked often report accessibility outside of mainland China and no technical issues. In response to questions about blocked Web sites, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Liu Jianchao said at a December 16 press conference (Chinese, English) that he was "not aware of the specifics" but that "it is undeniable that some websites do violate the Chinese law." Liu cited as an example Web sites that "publicly stage 'two Chinas' by putting the mainland China and China's Taiwan Province into two independent categories," in violation of the Anti-Secession Law. On January 13, 2009, MFA spokesperson Jiang Yu denied allegations that Chinese officials were blocking the Amnesty Web site ahead of a series of politically sensitive anniversaries in 2009, according to a January 13 Agence France-Presse article (via France 24). The same article quoted Jiang as saying that Amnesty "has always been biased toward China." Chinese and English transcripts of Jiang's January 13 press conference on the MFA's Web site do not mention the denial, but indicate that Jiang reiterated China's position that it manages the Internet according to Chinese laws and legally-binding regulations, which "prohibit the spreading of illegal information through the Internet, such as advocating cults and separatism."

Mainland Web Sites

Southern Metropolitan Daily, a newspaper based in Guangdong province, reported on January 12 that the Beijing Municipal Government's Information Office had ordered the closure of the blog hosting Web site Bullog ( after the site failed to remove large amounts of "harmful information" relating to current events and politics as authorities had requested, according to the Web site's administrator and founder, Luo Yonghao. Luo said that the site's service provider informed him by e-mail on January 9 that the provider received the shutdown order from the Beijing Communications Administration. Attempts by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China to access the Bullog Web site on January 27 were unsuccessful, yielding only browser-generated messages that the address could not be found. According to a January 12 Sydney Morning Herald article, Bullog has become a popular site for Chinese intellectuals and commentators to discuss politics and policy, registering more than one million daily viewers in April 2008. A January 13 Reporters Without Borders report said that at least nine contributors to Bullog had signed Charter 08, an open statement calling for political reform in China that has attracted the attention of authorities. Chinese officials have harassed signatories and censored references to Charter 08 on the Internet.

The reported shutdown of Bullog comes amidst a government campaign to remove "vulgar content" on the Internet. The campaign began on January 5 and will continue until early February, according to a January 6 People's Daily article (in Chinese). The campaign's primary target appears to be pornography, but employees at Web sites attempting to carry out the government's directive have noted "increased pressure to control political content as much as smut" as well as the vagueness of what the government considers unacceptable content, according to a January 12 Guardian article and a January 6 Straits Times article (via AsiaMedia). "We are just feeling our way in the dark now and going by intuition, deleting whatever we think might not be deemed proper by the government," one senior manager of a Chinese Web site told the Straits Times on the condition of anonymity.

As the CECC noted in its 2008 Annual Report, China's Internet laws and the interpretation and application of such laws by Chinese officials violate international human rights standards because they target content that the Chinese government and Communist Party deem politically sensitive.

For more information on Internet censorship in China, see "Internet Censorship" in Section II - Freedom of Expression, in the CECC 2008 Annual Report.