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12/4/02 - CHINA CONTROLS INTERNET USE - 2002-12-05

The Chinese government has long tried to block the free flow of information to the Chinese people over the Internet. Authorities in China appear to understand that the country needs the economic benefits the high-speed computer network brings, but fear the political ramifications that come with open communication.

Two years ago, China issued regulations governing Internet use, including who can own Internet businesses, what can be published online, and who has oversight over economic transactions. Other regulations were created to punish individuals who use computers to store, process, or retrieve information that the government deemed to be “state secrets.”

Authorities in China have blocked access to web sites from dissident groups and major news organizations like the Voice of America, The New York Times, and the B-B-C. A report released November 27th by Amnesty International said that Internet cafes are now required to install special government-approved software that filters out more than five-hundred-thousand officially banned sites.

Amnesty International said that it “has investigated the cases of thirty-three people believed to be prisoners of conscience. They have been detained or are serving long sentences in prison or labor camps for Internet-related offenses. Three have died in custody...others have been tortured or ill-treated in detention.... All,” said the Amnesty International report, “were peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and opinion.”

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That document states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The Chinese government should abide by these principles.