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1/9/04 - CHINA CRACKS DOWN ON WEB USERS - 2004-01-09

As U.S. officials have pointed out, actions to control freedom of expression and the free flow of information ultimately damage a country’s economic and social development. This applies to China, says President George W. Bush:

“China has discovered that economic freedom leads to national wealth. China’s leaders will also discover that freedom is indivisible -- that social and religious freedom is also essential to national greatness and national dignity.”

Some seventy-million people are now using the Internet in China -- more than in any country other than the U.S. But Chinese officials have jailed dozens of people for making comments on the Internet that displeased them.

According to some reports, Liu Di spent about a year in solitary confinement after posting several essays online criticizing the Chinese government’s interference with free use of the Internet. A twenty-three-year-old student, she was charged with engaging in conduct “detrimental to state security.” But in late November, the Beijing prosecutor announced that Liu Di’s offense was “slight,” and she was released on bail.

In October, Hubei civil servant Du Daobin was reportedly arrested after he organized an Internet petition calling for Liu Di’s release. And on December 10th, International Human Rights Day, Li Zhi, a government worker from Sichuan province, was sentenced to eight years in prison for writing Internet essays about government corruption. Among the others who have received long prison sentences are four young men who organized political discussions at Beijing University and posted essays on the Internet.

In recent decades, China has begun a busy trade in goods and technology with the rest of the world. At the same time, China has become much more open to outside information and ideas. But as the government’s attempts to control the Internet make clear, China still has a long way to go. “Only by allowing the Chinese people to think, speak, assemble, and worship very, very freely,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell pointed out, “will China fully unleash the talents of its citizens and reach its full potential.”