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Is China silencing rumors, or the public?

The following is a CPJ Blog post by Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia Program Coordinator:

China's Internet has changed fundamentally since Shi Tao was given a 10-year prison sentence in 2005. Shi's case was a marker of sorts - the first high profile sentencing in China for online activity. The government says 40 percent of the population is online as of December 2012. That's 564 million people. In 2005, penetration was 8.5 per cent. Shi was detained in 2004 and sentenced on charges of "leaking state secrets abroad" for messages he wrote summarizing government restrictions on domestic media reporting on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. He used his Yahoo email account to post anonymous messages on a US-based pro-democracy forum. His unexpected release from prison on August 23, 2013 was announced Saturday September 7 in a statement from PEN International, an organization of writers.

Police had identified Shi using information provided to them by Yahoo, which defended itself at the time by saying it had to comply with local laws. The case drew international condemnation for Yahoo and other major Internet service providers for their cooperation with Chinese authorities. Yahoo's co-founder, Jerry Yang, was slammed at congressional hearings in Washington for his company's conduct, and Shi's family sued Yahoo and settled out of court in 2007. In 2005, CPJ honored Shi in absentia, with an International Press Freedom Award.

While Shi was detained in 2004, the government's efforts to control the vastly larger range of digital platforms now available in China haven't stopped. On Monday September 9, Chinese authorities once again tightened controls of the country's wildly popular social media. Under new rules, people who post comments that are deemed libelous and are reposted 500 or more times will face defamation charges and up to three years in prison. The rules also apply to bloggers whose posts are viewed by at least 5,000 Internet users.

Read the full story on CPJ's site.

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