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BEIJING DEFENDS RIGHT TO BLOCK WEBSITES

IFEX members have condemned China's quiet return to blocking access to websites that were unrestricted during the Beijing Olympics.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao said on 16 December that the government had a right to censor websites that violated China's laws. He added that some websites, which he did not identify, had violated the law against secession by suggesting that there were two Chinas - a reference to self-ruled island Taiwan.

The BBC reported this week that its Chinese language news site and a number of foreign websites, including Voice of America and the Hong Kong publications "Asiaweek" and "Ming Pao", have been blocked since early December. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Hong Kong and Taiwanese versions of the video-sharing website YouTube are also inaccessible.

During the August Olympics, Beijing opened up access to typically banned sites in keeping with its promise to extend media freedom. IFEX members RSF, Freedom House, the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) blasted Chinese authorities for apparently returning to media restrictions.

"It's clear that China has no intention of fulfilling the hopes it raised when it was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games that the Chinese media universe would enter a period of expansion," said CPJ.

RSF also reports that since November, China has been stepping up surveillance of Internet café users. China's Internet cafés have been required to replace all unlicensed operating systems on their computers with China's Red Flag Linux operating system, which critics say will allow the authorities to increase their surveillance of users. Internet café clients in Beijing must now also submit to having their photo taken before they use a computer.

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/5fsxjs
- Freedom House: http://tinyurl.com/63cm3h
- RSF: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99372/
- RSF on Internet café surveillance: http://tinyurl.com/4eqdrb
- WPFC: http://tinyurl.com/5u9zcl
- BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7785248.stm
(17 December 2008)

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