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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

China tops ‘Not Free’ Internet community – Freedom House

China has been named top on the list of countries in the world with no freedom for Internet access, according to the Freedom House survey, released at the weekend. Just as China increases censorship on video-sharing websites.

China was ranked Not Free in Freedom on the Net, an assessment by the Freedom House of internet and mobile phone freedom in 15 countries, across the globe.

Freedom House, said, it is deeply disturbed by regulations issued last week by China’s authoritarian leaders that warned video-sharing websites to increase censorship, further restricting what is already one of the world’s most repressive internet environments. The regulations come just days after China’s government blocked YouTube and objected to the release of a video that appeared to show Chinese forces beating Tibetans during protests last spring.

The detailed regulations from the State Administration of Radio, Film, and TV include a ban on videos that show “depictions of torture” and “distortions of Chinese culture or history,” government code used to mean interpretations that depart from the Communist Party line.

Equally, Freedom House study indicated that videos that “hurt the feelings of the public” or “disparage” security forces or leaders were also prohibited.

The regulations specifically mention videos from “netizen reporters,” who have played a critical role in informing Chinese citizens about police brutality, the melamine scandal and the lethal consequences of corruption surrounding the Sichuan earthquake.

“Video-sharing websites have also become an important forum for expressing frustration at and ridiculing the state-run Chinese Central Television,” a press statement from Freedom House endorsed by the Executive Director at Freedom House, Ms Jennifer Windsor stated.

She also said that these new restrictions represent a new law for China’s Communist Party leaders, who already wield the world’s most complex system for repressing internet freedom.

“These restrictions will harm millions of Chinese citizens who depend on the internet as a key source for holding a secretive and often repressive government to account,” she said.

Although China tied with Cuba on the country with the most curbs on users’ rights, including prosecutions for online activities, surveillance and extra-legal harassment of bloggers, Cuba received a lower score overall for having more obstacles to access and content limitations.

The study, she also said, identified China as a leader in “outsourcing censorship,” the practice of requiring private actors such as service providers and blog hosting companies to censor and monitor users.

This trend, Freedom House said, is born in the new regulations which require service providers to “improve their programme content administration” by hiring “well-qualified service personnel to review and filter content.”

“Chinese authorities and private providers already employ hundreds of thousands of people to monitor, censor, and manipulate online content,” she said.

Recalling that since 2007, the Chinese government has required all domestic video-sharing websites to be state-owned, except for several prominent pre-existing sites like Tudou.com, 56.com and Youku.com.

These were instead closed in 2008 for several days to conduct a “self-inspection” and ensure adequate content controls were in place. Whereas the Chinese authorities have been known to block international websites such as YouTube and Facebook around sensitive events such as the Beijing Olympics, the protests in Tibet and the Communist Party Congress.

“Countries and companies who care about human rights and the well-being of ordinary Chinese should let the Chinese government know that the Party’s curbs on the internet freedom of its citizens are simply unacceptable,” said Windsor.


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