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Authorities target Internet in media crackdown prior to Party Congress

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a CPJ press release:

China targets the Internet in media crackdown prior to Party Congress

New York, October 9, 2007 - The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned by a recent crackdown on the Internet in China in advance of the 17th Communist Party Congress. The Congress, which is held every five years, is set to begin in Beijing on October 15 and is expected to formally promote a new generation of party leaders.

In recent weeks, authorities have intensified efforts to control the media, particularly online news and discussion forums. In an unprecedented move, public security officers in various regions have ordered entire Internet Data Centers (IDCs) to close. IDCs physically house servers, often several at a time, which in turn host hundreds and sometimes thousands of Web sites each. According to widespread reports from the media and industry insiders, entire IDCs have been shut down if they host a single Web site that posts information that the government deems offensive.

Waigaoqiao, one of China's largest IDCs based in Shanghai, was ordered to close on September 3, effectively shutting 30 servers at once, according to numerous reports from bloggers and industry insiders. Police turned off 1,000 computers housing servers run by Lanmang Internet Co, after they discovered blogs on the network that contained "illegal information." Authorities have carried out inspections and issued warnings to other IDCs throughout the country.

"By taking such extreme measures to control Internet content, the Chinese Communist Party is seeking to silence public discussion of the 17th Party Congress and related political developments," said Joel Simon, CPJ's executive director. "The Chinese government has deprived its citizens of their right to freely discuss issues of crucial importance to the future of their country. The government's pledge to allow media to operate freely in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games rings increasingly hollow as China continues to pursue its censorship tactics."

In an August special report, "Falling Short," CPJ outlined China's failure to meet the press freedom promises it made as part of its 2008 Olympic bid.

The Public Security Bureau has ordered IDCs to close all interactive functions on Web sites that they host until the Party Congress has concluded, including Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), blogs, and comment sections. According to a notice received from the PSB and posted on a disabled forum section of a Web site hosting company, "individuals or work units overseeing problematic Web sites will be held criminally responsible by the Public Security Bureau." The same notice announced a timeline for the PSB to carry out inspections of BBS forums, which was scheduled to be completed at the end of last month.

While it is unclear exactly how many Web sites have been closed in recent weeks, the official Shanghai Daily newspaper stated that 18,401 Web sites had been shut as part of a campaign against online pornography. However, the same article acknowledges that only 8,808 of those sites, fewer than half, were closed for posting "pornographic, illicit or fraudulent pictures and information on the Internet." The rest were shut down because they had failed to register according to current regulations.

In addition, bloggers, forum hosts, and other Web site operators have been forced to exercise extreme self-censorship to protect their own businesses and avoid being criminally prosecuted for permitting free speech. Numerous online discussion forums have posted messages on their front pages asking participants to avoid discussing politically sensitive topics.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit http:// www.cpj.org

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