Sun, Aug 19, 2001 - Page 1 News List

China goes after online dissenters

AP , BEIJING

Defiantly flashing an "OK" sign to his family, the organizer of an Internet site that published writings about democracy stood trial Tuesday in China, highlighting the government's determination to suppress online dissent.

The completion of Huang Qi's trial -- which was postponed in February in an apparent effort to avoid spoiling Beijing's winning campaign for the 2008 Summer Olympics -- comes as China is tightening its already stringent controls on the Web.

Huang is the first Chinese Web master known to have been prosecuted for publishing political materials. He was arrested in June last year after his site carried articles about a banned would-be opposition party, pro-democracy protests on Tiananmen Square and other topics deemed subversive by prosecutors.

China's communist leaders are keen to harness the economic, educational and technological potential of the Internet.

But the government fears the Internet is also providing a forum for political dissent, giving voice to critics who otherwise have had few ways to make themselves heard. The banned Falun Gong spiritual movement has used the Internet to publicize the deaths and torture of practitioners in custody. Online pornographers are also skirting government bans.

On Thursday, a senior Chinese leader, Vice Premier Li Lanqing (李嵐清), ordered a crackdown on Internet bars he said are letting in minors and providing "electronic games with unhealthy content as well as other criminal activities," the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily reported Friday.

Huang, 37, and his wife started www.6-4tianwang.com in 1999 to publicize information about missing people. But the site's name also made it a magnet for information the government dislikes. In Chinese, "6-4" is shorthand for June 4 -- the date in 1989 when China's military ousted protesters from Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds along the way.

"This is a bellwether case for the development of the Internet in China," Huang's father-in-law said Friday. He asked to be identified only by his surname, Zeng.

No verdict or sentencing date was announced for Huang at the end of the closed-door two-hour hearing Tuesday at the Intermediate People's Court in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, Zeng said.

Zeng said he and his daughter -- Huang's wife, Zeng Li -- had learned from lawyers that the trial was underway and were only able to see him in a passageway leading to court.

Zeng said his daughter shot a photograph of Huang, but that bailiffs confiscated her film. "We wanted a picture," Zeng said, "because it could be a decade before we're able to see him again."

As the Internet has expanded in China, so have official restrictions. The government has issued at least 60 sets of regulations aimed at controlling Internet content since 1995, Human Rights Watch said in an Aug. 1 report. The New York-based group cited the names of 15 people detained or sentenced in Internet-related cases, many for posting or downloading political materials.

Huang was accused of inciting the overthrow of state power and the destruction of national unity. Conviction can bring a prison term of up to five years, or longer if judges deem the crimes particularly serious.

Huang's wife says he did not post the articles prosecutors say were subversive. A statement on www.6-4tianwang.com says Huang lost control of content when the site moved to a US-based server in April last year.

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