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Respect for free speech continues to deteriorate

(RSF/IFEX) - 27 October 2011 - China's restrictions on Internet use, which affect bloggers, journalists, activists and many others, have led the US ambassador to the World Trade Organization to complain about China's "national firewall" and website blocking on the grounds that they violate WTO rules by making it harder for companies outside China to offer "services to Chinese customers."

The complaint, the text of which was released on 19 October, was rejected the next day by foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu. "We do not accept using the excuse of 'Internet freedom' to interfere in other countries' internal practices," Jiang said, adding that China's policy was to "maintain a good Internet environment and to safeguard public interest."

In a country where the number of Internet users has reached half a billion and microblogging is now very popular, Reporters Without Borders condemns the government's obsessive Internet control policies and its mendacious propaganda. The organization has followed many recent cases that highlight China's repressive policies towards bloggers and online activists.

Propaganda

In Inner Mongolia, a herdsman identified only as Zorigt, was reportedly killed by an oil transport truck on 20 October while trying to protect his grazing lands in Huhtolgoi Gachaa, in the district of Uushin. The authorities tried to silence news about the case, portraying it as an ordinary road accident, and the government news agency Xinhua ran a story supporting the official version.

But the case has set off a wave of online protests by Inner Mongolian netizens. A call for demonstrations is currently circulating online in Chinese and Mongolian, despite the Chinese government's censorship. Several articles on the subject have "disappeared" from the Chinese Internet.

The local police have reportedly threatened the herdsman's family and told them not to talk about the case. Any kind of demonstration has been strictly forbidden in Uushin. Reporters Without Borders calls on the authorities to allow journalists and bloggers to investigate the case and allow them to publish their findings.

The death of another herdsman, identified as Mergen, in similar circumstances five months ago prompted many demonstrations in Inner Mongolia. Many herdsmen have been beaten or attacked in disputes over oil and gas industry convoys crossing their lands.

Propaganda messages, probably posted by government-hired bloggers known as "50 cents," have mushroomed online. One such post said: "Dear college students of Hohhot and friends from all walks of life, the event which took place in Galuut Township of Uushin Banner is just a traffic accident. Some people who have hidden intentions are interpreting it as an ethnic problem or a conflict with the oil and natural gas development. The government of Uushin Banner is taking the case extremely seriously (. . .) Hope our fellow students do not believe the rumours."

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