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IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin - February 2010

(IFJ/IFEX) - In this bulletin:

1. IFJ China Report Makes International News
2. China Bans Reporting on Google Conflict
3. Local and Foreign Journalists Report Email Hacking
4. Coverage of Milk Contamination Banned
5. SMS Communication Under Watch
6. International Chinese PEN Secretary Detained
7. Guangdong Officials Block Transmission of Protest

1. IFJ China Report Makes International News

A new IFJ report on press freedom in China, China Clings to Control: Press Freedom in 2009, revealed the extensive measures used by authorities in China to control media content on a wide range of topics throughout the past year. The report, which included a list of more than 60 direct bans by the government's Central and provincial propaganda departments as well as data from the IFJ Media Rights Monitoring in China program, documents the intensification of official restrictions and unofficial intimidation of media workers in China since a brief reprieve around the time of the Beijing Olympic Games in August 2008. The report, which was released in Hong Kong on January 31, received wide international attention.

For the English and Chinese versions of the report, see: http://asiapacific.ifj.org/en/articles/ifj-report-lists-chinas-secret-bans-on-media-reporting .

2. China Bans Reporting on Google Conflict

Two orders issued by the Central Propaganda Department in January banned journalists from using any information other than the state-controlled Xinhua and China Daily news services when covering reports of the alleged hacking of Google email accounts in China. The first order, issued on January 12 as Google announced it would pull out of China if its government continued to demand it filter information, also instructed that all online commentary about Google be heavily censored and not to be placed prominently in news reports. A second order was reportedly made by the Central Propaganda Department on January 21 after United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticised China's internet policy in a speech about internet freedom. Google announced on its website that it had detected a sophisticated attack on its email service, including the gmail accounts of two Chinese human rights activists.

3. Local and Foreign Journalists Report Email Hacking

A series of cyber attacks on China-based and international websites and email accounts has been reported since Google's January 12 announcement. According to local media reports, China-based search engine Baidu said its website was attacked on January 12, with interference lasting at least 11 hours. On January 18, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) posted a note on its website alerting members that some foreign correspondents in Beijing had discovered that their gmail accounts had been hacked and their private emails had been forwarded without their knowledge to unknown recipients. A foreign journalist told the IFJ that her emails were being forwarded to an unknown account which had been used to communicate with people she had interviewed. On January 23, five human rights-related websites including Independent Chinese PEN, Human Rights Defenders, Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, Canyu and New Century News were simultaneously attacked by a distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) charge, which temporarily denies public access to the websites.

4. Coverage of Milk Contamination Banned

Independent reporting about a milk contamination scandal in Guangdong Province has been banned by the provincial propaganda department. Local sources say a new order stating that all media outlets must use only information released by the authorities was issued on February 3. However, no relevant information is currently available on the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, the supervisory department for all food products in China. The order also does not specify which authorities are responsible for publishing the information. The ban comes as melamine-tainted milk products were reported to be on sale in China. In 2008, at least six children died and another 300,000 suffered illness after milk products were found to contain the industrial chemical melamine.

5. SMS Communication Under Watch

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and Security Bureau has extended its 2009 clampdown on online content deemed to be pornographic or "vulgar" to include SMS communication. Local sources report that nine government departments are working in cooperation with telecommunications companies to set up a team to monitor and censor all instant short messages (SMS). Under the program, the telecoms companies have unilateral power to intercept and stop the user from sending individual messages. They may shut down the whole service if relevant messages were found. Some telecoms companies have reportedly employed additional staff to censor all messages sent by their cell-phone subscribers.

6. Independent Chinese PEN Secretary Detained

The secretary of Independent Chinese PEN and a signatory to the pro-democracy Charter 08 petition, Zhao Dagong, was detained by Shenzhen police on January 11 and held for two weeks. While in detention, Zhao was reportedly interrogated about Charter 08, which was delivered to China's Government on December 10, 2008 on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and his involvement with Independent Chinese PEN. Two computers and books were confiscated from his home. Fellow Charter 08 signatory Yin Xia was also reportedly interrogated by security bureau officials in Sichuan province on January 13.

7. Guangdong Officials Block Transmission of Protest

The local government-controlled Guangdong Broadcasting Company reportedly blocked transmission signals as two broadcasters in Hong Kong aired footage of thousands of young people protesting outside the Legislative Council of Hong Kong. The protesters were campaigning against a high-speed railway project due to begin on January 8, with an expected cost of almost 67 billion Hong Kong dollars and requiring the demolition of a village. According to Ming Pao newspaper, one of the broadcasters airing footage of the incident was Television Broadcasting Ltd.

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