Web crackdown, Web protest: Three recent cases (Updated)

Since the “Rules on the Administration of Internet News Information Services” came out last September, government control over online content has intensified. Following are three recent examples of how the local authorities have acted on the regulations, and the subsequent reactions from the website editors and supporters.

Example 1: The popular “Aegean Sea” (Áà±Áê¥Êµ∑Ôºâwebsite was closed on March 9. The online literature community, which was edited by poets, included BBS, blogs, and publication of literature and news. Its closure generated outrage from a large number of Internet users, who mounted an online campaign to protest the censorship. They formed a group seeking legal support for the site and wrote a large number of protest messages on domestic and overseas websites. Under such pressure from netizens, the Zhejiang authorities took an interesting and unprecedented action by writing an apparently official response, without any official signature, and posting it on the overseas website Boxun.com, which had extensively covered the situation. Following is a partial translation (by CDT) of the official explanation, together with excerpts of the responses from supporters and the editor of Aegean Sea. Many more materials about this case, including a commentary by Liu Xiaobo, are available (in Chinese) via Boxun.

From the Zhejiang official’s post:

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On March 9, it was learned that “Aegean Sea” website had been closed according to law by the relevant Zhejiang Province authorities. Online, we can see that a small number of people are hyping the situation, spreading false rumors and misleading some people who don’t understand the truth.

The Aegean Sea website is run by the Hangzhou Aegean Sea Information Technology Company, and was launched on September 9, 2005. Since the launch of this site, it has never registered with the relevant authorities to post news content, but has still posted a large amount of current events reports about domestic and international news.

On September 25, 2005, the State Council Information Office and the Ministry of Information Industry jointly issued the “Rules on the Administration of Internet News Information Services.” Article 5 of these regulations clearly points out: Any Internet news and information service that reprints news from a non-news related work unit, or provides electronic bulletin services on current affairs, or distributes information about current affairs to the public, should first receive the approval of the State Council Information Office.

On March 8, the New York Times published an article which said, “The Web in China is a thriving marketplace for everyone, including scam artists, snake oil salesmen and hard-core criminals who are only too eager to turn consumers into victims. Chinese entrepreneurs who started out brazenly selling downloadable pirated music and movies from online storefronts have extended their product lines – peddling drugs and sex, stolen cars, firearms and even organs for transplanting.”

The illegal acts of a number of people have already raised a feeling of strong dissatisfaction from the public in China, and they have strongly demanded that the government strengthen management, and strike down those illegal websites.

…To manage the Internet according to law and to close illegal websites is an customary international method. In terms of legislation, Germany promulgated an “Information and Telecommunications Services Law,” Australia promulgated an “Internet Review Law,” and the United States passed a “Communications Decency Act,” and “Children’s Internet Protection Act” and other laws. When the relevant authorities penalized the Aegean Sea website, and stopped the illegal behavior, it should not be criticized but should be supported.

In response, Aegean Sea supporter “New Observer” (Êñ∞ËßÇÂØüÂÆ∂Ôºâ wrote:

You say the “illegalities” of the illegal websites are those mentioned in the New York Times article that you quote, meaning the promotion and auctioning of Nazi materials, the illegal downloading of movies and violation of copyrights, not the Aegean Sea’s attention to affairs relating to the country and people’s lives, democracy and constitutionality, and critiques of current public affairs, because in international communications practice, there is no stipulation “forbidding the discussion of affairs relating to the country and people’s lives.” You so admire the laws of Germany, Australia, America and France, but have you looked into their democratic systems? These are the world’s most representative free democratic countries. You are so eager to strike up a comparison, but are you really confident enough to do so?

The last section of the official explanation stated:

The managers of “Aegean Sea” neither abide by the law or are self-disciplined, and do not qualify for the basic qualities of a modern professional. Such unqualified professionals will certainly be abandoned by society.

In response, the chief editor of Aegean Sea wrote:

The phrase “Will certainly be abandoned by society” – they do not say such threatening language idly, at least they already have a plan to follow-up. This phrase surprised me, I smelled the scent of the KGB from those years.

UPDATE (3/28/06): Supporters of the Aegean Sea site, led by “rights defense” (Áª¥ÊùÉÔºâlawyers, have posted an open letter (link) to the National People’s Congress calling for a review of the “Rules on the Administration of Internet News Information Services,” calling the regulations unconstitutional. The letter has been signed by editors from several other websites that have been closed in recent months.

Example 2: The “Chinese Angry Youth” (‰∏≠ÂõΩÊѧÈùíÔºâforum was closed by authorities on January 19, 2006. It had been open since November 2004. The forum’s founder and manager, Huang Tai, who is a college student, wrote a lengthy essay about his experience. His essay is partially translated (by CDT) below. (Original Chinese version is here.)

In the middle of January, 2006, right after the final examinations, I was packing to go home, when the Municipal Party Committee called me. They told me that the Zhong Ban (General Office of the CPC Central Committee) and Zhong Wai Ban (Foreign Affairs Office of the CPC Central Committee) were both concerned with my online forum, and the provincial party committee was even more concerned. They asked me to rectify the forum. Since it’s winter and the campus Internet was not working, I said I would deal with it after I got back home.

On Jan. 19, I logged onto the forum at home and deleted more than 10 sensitive posts. I didn’t want my forum to die. I called the municipal party committee, telling them what I had done. But to my surprise, he said the Zhong Ban and Zhong Wai Ban made a second phone call, ordering the closure of the forum. He asked my opinion. My arguments were futile. The only thing I could say was that it’s your business, and I don’t need to take action. He told me they would notify the state internet censorship bureau to shut down my forum. The next day, when I tried the China Fengqing (angry youth) Forum, it was down. Shortly thereafter, the server company told me that their company’s whole website was down from last night until this morning. All of their users were unable to access their websites. The situation didn’t turn better until they found insiders to help them. He complained aboutthe heavy loss. I felt sorry, although I knew it was the government’s punishment to them, a kind of implication system in the 21st Century.

I felt released after the closure of the forum, thinking this end might not be bad. At the end of the winter break, I suddenly got a call from the municipal party committee, asking when I would go back to school, and asking me call them, and then he hung up. I felt anxious for the rest to the winter break, wondering about everything that might happen to me. I arrived at school on Feb. 15, and reported to the party committee in the afternoon. I was asked to go to their office.

“Sit down please.”

“Thank you.”

“Why did you open this forum?”

“…….”

“Is this your personal forum?”

“…….”

“The provincial party committee was upset. Your forum maligned the whole city and even the whole province. The provincial party committee requested me to go to your home.”

“…….”

“How is your family? If something happens to you, your parents and siblings will also suffer.”

“…….”

“Will you re-open another forum?”

“…….”

“Since you’re committed to not open a new forum, it should be OK. Actually this kind of forum is really nonsense.”

“…….”

“The name Fenqing itself is not good.”

“…….”

“If you are asked the reason of the closure, just say you are too busy to maintain it. Don’t say that we came up to you. Bad people will take advantage of it.”

“…….”

“You are very young and you have a long future. Don’t do this kind of thing even after graduation. Put your intelligence to some valuable use.”

“Thank you for your concern.”

We shook hands

I came back to the dormitory, feeling relieved. Luckily there was no trick.

But my happiness was apparently too early. Before long, a group of unexpected people came to the school, expressing their “sympathy” and “concern” for my present situation and my future.

I am finally enlightened. I will chase a happy and sweet life. I swear I will be absolutely docile.

Example 3: The China Election and Governance Web, a project of the Carter Center, announced that it would not be updated and it was closing its comments section on March 7. According to Chinese Rights Defenders, a network of Chinese human rights activists:

The site posted a public notification, saying that Internet regulation authorities ordered the suspension citing violation of the Internet Media Information Service Management Regulation. The violation referred to publishing news and commentaries about current political events. The staff is ordered to undergo “study and training,” conduct self-criticism, but stop all editorial activities. The website will no longer do any updates and its message board must be closed down. This website has become one of the best information resources for local elections and political reform in the country. (China Current Events Observer, zhongguo shishi guancha, Bi-weekly, 1st Half of March) This is likely one step in a large-scale crackdown on efforts to push for meaningful political reform during this year’s local elections of deputies to the People’s Congress, which begin in July.