02/17/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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Beijing is blocking many Catholic websites: is this how you fight pornography...

Under the pretext of filtering vulgar content, the authorities are censoring and blocking information sites and forums. Sites that provide information are increasingly under fire. But more than 253 million users look on the internet for what the government does not say.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Chinese authorities continue to block many Catholic websites, like Radio Veritas of Asia, the website of the Chinese Regional Bishops' Conference, all of the Catholic sites of Taiwan, and those of the diocese of Hong Kong. The government says that it wants to fight pornography on the internet, but it is systematically taking measures against sites with no pornographic content, which however present information not entirely in harmony with the version of the Communist Party.

The systematic censorship of Catholic sites in Taiwan even goes "against the tide" with respect to the tremendous improvement underway in relations between Beijing and Taipei.

The website AsiaNews has been blocked on an on-again, off-again basis for years, and was not made visible even during the Olympic grace period. The website Reporters Without Borders, very critical of China during the Olympics, was also blocked for months.

Beijing had promised to soften censorship during the Games, and allow full visibility for the main international websites. In reality, the relaxation of censorship lasted only during the competitions themselves, and only in the Olympic Village. Immediately afterward, censorship returned for foreign websites like the BBC, Radio Free Asia, the Voice of America, and others. Many "domestic" websites, like the popular "Legal World" ("Fa Tianxia"), have also been "blocked" for violating Chinese law: the site carried legal advice from experts like the attorney Liu Xiaoyuan, who says that each of his articles was read by 2-3,000 people.

At the beginning of January, the state portal China.com.cn announced the blocking of "91 Web sites for pornographic and other 'vulgar' content." The websites were not named, but they did include the blog site Bullog.cn, where a number of the signers of "Charter 08" posted comments. The threat of censorship also affects famous sites like Google, MSN, and China's Baidu and Sohu.com, which have been asked to block the circulation of news that Beijing believes to be "incorrect."

In the middle of 2008, there were 253 million internet users in China according to the official data, spending more time on the web than in any other country, except for France and South Korea. There is an extensive and constant exchange of information, photographs, and opinion, and Beijing wants to maintain control over information. Recently, the managers of internet cafés have been required to record the identity of their clients before allowing them online.

"The problem [for the government] is that people now don’t believe official information," says one internet user. "They prefer to get their information from the internet." And Beijing is afraid that this has the effect of entrenching critical positions not only on the major political issues (like Taiwan, Tibet, the "Tiananmen Mothers"), but on all current affairs, like the recent scandal over melamine contamination in milk, or Communist Party corruption.

For this reason, the blogger Guo Quan from Nanjing (in the photo) was again arrested in November, under the accusation of "subversion of state power," because he had published an open letter calling for democratic reforms. He had previously been arrested in May for criticizing the government about its aid efforts for victims of the earthquake on May 12 in Sichuan.

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