China censors internet aided by Microsoft, Yahoo, Cisco

The three giant international companies delete blog, filter news and set up censorship systems. Journalists are increasingly targeted.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Government censorship and criminal charges against journalists who criticize the authorities are on the rise. And while the Internet is spreading rapidly and having an impact on tastes and habits, international companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Cisco accept all the restrictions imposed by Beijing, assisting censorship.  

This week, Microsoft shut down the blog of a media expert, Zhao Jing, on the site MSN Spaces, after he published an article which criticized the government daily newspaper Beijing News about a "purge" of corrupt officials. "I posted three posts about the Beijing News and all posts and articles were deleted inside China," Zhao said. "MSN Spaces [has] now deleted all of my articles and I have no backup."

The MSN Spaces site is a joint venture between Microsoft and the State-owned Shanghai Alliance Entertainment and it is the main blog-hosting service in China. The US giant has responded by saying that the closure was in line with international norms. Already in 2005, it accepted to block from its site terms like "demonstration", "democratic movement" and "Taiwan independence".

But other large firms are also under fire for submitting to the dictates of the Chinese authorities. Besides Yahoo, the other US giant Google is accused of having accepted the deletion of some terms from its Chinese search engine and Cisco Systems and other firms have collaborated with the Chinese government to create an advanced system of censoring information on the internet.

There are at least 60 cyber dissidents in prison – this figure covers only better-known intellectuals – for having disseminated "subversive" material through the internet.

One of these is the author Shi Tao. The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN said the journalist and poet was suffering from respiratory problems and a skin inflammation as a result of forced labour. Shi was sentenced on 27 April 2005 to 10 years in prison for "leaking state secrets abroad", for having informed the editor of a New York website about government initiatives to prevent commemorations of the 15th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square. The email address of the journalist was revealed to police by the Internet Service Provider Yahoo Inc. On 5 September, Shi was transferred to the high-security Chishan prison in Hunan Province where, according to his family, many inmates have pneumonia or respiratory ailments as a result of forced labour of cutting and polishing jewels.

Another case of censorship and violence regards journalist Ching Cheong. Charges against him are currently being scrutinized by the prosecutors' office in Beijing, which will decide if criminal charges should be filed. Ching, a correspondent for a Singapore newspaper, has been detained for nine months, charged with having sold "secret information" to Taiwan, but the authorities have not revealed any of the evidence against him because it is – they claim – classified information. The journalist has always proclaimed his innocence and now he risks a criminal charge which could mean a heavy sentence. For months, he has not been allowed to see even the lawyer appointed by his newspaper: he will definitely be able to "see him only 10 days before the trial", said his wife Mary Lau Man-yee.

Meanwhile, the use of internet in China remains widespread: in 2005, internauts exceeded 100 million and the country ranks second worldwide for connections. And to meet the growing thirst for information, new forms of communication have emerged like a 50-minute film called A Hard Day's Night, completed within a day and without a budget by the popular internet site Dai San Ge Biao (which literally means "wears three watches" but is also a play on former leader Jiang Zemin's Three Represents theory", or San Ge Dai Biao). It is the paradoxical story of a man mistaken by police for a bank robber and then for a famous film star. One of the actors said: "There are no messages, it's pure fun". But some reporters have described it as "political satire", with police portrayed as bumbling or brutal, and the Communist Party's slogans ridiculed.

China ranks among 15 countries condemned by Reporters without Frontiers for being "enemies of the internet".