Beijing: Intensified censorship as search engines of biggest sites are blocked

Sina and Sohu, the biggest web portals on Chinese internet, have been blocked because "they failed to live up to government standards of filtering certain keywords deemed politically harmful". The list of companies that bow to government censorship is increasing.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – The search engines of two of China's most popular Web portals have been blocked by the government in a show of its intent to intensify censorship and to clamp down still further on information exchanged on the internet. The order to stop Sina and Sohu strikes an unknown number – but estimated to be around 30 million – internet users.

An anonymous source said the two sites were blocked because they had not managed to "live up to government standards of filtering certain keywords deemed politically harmful". Among these terms are words like "democracy", "Dalai Lama", "Tibet", "Taiwan" and "independence".

The source continued: "The editors of the two portals were summoned to the State Council Information Office in the morning and were shut down in the evening." Now they have been given three days to "rectify their mistakes or face losing their license".

The two companies have refused to comment about the decision or to provide statistics of their users. Yan Hongyan, Sina spokesman, said: "I don't know yet what has happened and why the search engine is out of service."

Apart from local firms, many Western companies operating on the Chinese computer market – including Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Yahoo! and Skype – have unreservedly accepted the rigid controls of the Chinese Communist Party. Yahoo! came under fire because thanks to its help, the regime actually managed to arrest three Chinese dissidents who had, via electronic mail, exchanged criticisms about anti-democratic methods enforced in China.

The portal, based in the United States, not only supplied the identification codes of two users – thus allowing for their imprisonment – but it also provided court authorities with the complete text of the exchanges, which proved instrumental for formulating the charges that led to their sentencing.

Right now, the Chinese web market ranks second worldwide with 111 million users. This number will increase to 128 million by the end of 2006. With a growth of 250,000 new users per day, the market is heading towards taking first place within a couple of years, thus surpassing the US.