Mon, Jun 28, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Chinese man sentenced in Internet democracy case

BIG BROTHER The man received a punishment lighter than was feared, but Beijing still controls access to the Internet in a variety of sinister ways


A Chinese court recently announced that a democracy advocate who used the Internet and was charged with subversion would receive a suspended sentence instead of a long prison term.

The case had drawn criticism from human rights groups and served as a rallying cry for this country's growing number of online commentators. Both in China and abroad, some commentators quickly applauded what seemed like an official show of leniency toward the accused man, Du Daobin (杜導斌), a prolific author of online essays on issues of democracy and free speech.

But many among China's rapidly growing group of Internet commentators are warning that what appears to be government magnanimity in this high-profile case conceals a quiet but concerted push to tighten controls of the Internet and surveillance of its users. China's restrictions on the medium are already among the broadest and most invasive anywhere.

cat-and-mouse game

Internet cafe users in China have long been subject to an extraordinary range of controls. They include cameras placed discreetly throughout the establishments to monitor and identify users and Web masters, and Internet cafe managers who keep an eye on user activity, whether electronically or by patrolling the premises.

The average Internet user, meanwhile, neither sees nor, in many cases, suspects the activities of a force widely estimated to number as many as 30,000 Internet police officers.

Experts on China's Internet say the officers are constantly engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with equally determined Web surfers, blocking access to Web sites that the government considers politically offensive, monitoring users who visit other politically sensitive sites and killing off discussion threads on Internet bulletin boards. The Chinese government has also established a Web site where people are able to report fellow Web users for suspicious or provocative behavior.

Web surfers who try to visit sites being blocked by the government receive messages announcing a page is no longer accessible, or their computer screen may simply go blank, or they may be redirected to unrelated sites. Similarly, people who participate in Web-based discussions on certain subjects may be warned that in order to log on to a discussion group, real names must be used, along with genuine e-mail addresses and even telephone numbers.

identification cards

As its first line of defense against what in another era China's Communist leadership might have called ideological pollution, Beijing controls the Internet by insisting that all Web traffic pass through government-controlled servers.

Now, on top of these measures, which are all deployed at the national level, China's provincial governments are getting into the act, introducing regulations of their own that critics say severely impinge on privacy and freedom of speech.

In recent weeks, Shanghai, China's largest and most Internet-connected city, has quietly introduced a series of controls, arguably the country's most far-reaching yet, and critics fear it as a model eventually to be used nationwide. Described by city officials as a measure intended to combat pornography and to bar entry for minors to Internet bars, the Shanghai regulations require customers to use electronic identification cards that would allow administrators or others to record and track their Internet use.

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