China, the Internet, and U.S. corporate responsibility: Principles before profits
China's attempts to control the Internet
Jailed: Internet writers being held in China
China, the Internet, and U.S. corporate responsibility: Principles before profits
Mr. Chairman, thank you for allowing the Committee to Protect Journalists to present this testimony. CPJ, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, responds to attacks on the press worldwide. It documents more than 400 cases every year and takes action on behalf of journalists and their news organizations, without regard to political ideology. CPJ accepts no government funding and depends entirely on the support of foundations, corporations and individuals.
In the last year alone, the CPJ has documented Internet censorship in 22 countries, including Tunisia, Iran, Vietnam, and Nepal. Yet none raises as much concern as China, where the government has imprisoned at least 18 Internet writers. Our great fear is that China's authoritarian approachaided by U.S.-based Internet companieswill become the model for repressive regimes wishing to restrict the flow of information.
Shi Tao, 37, an Internet essayist and former editor of the Changsha-based newspaper Dangdai Shang Bao, is among those imprisoned in China. He is serving a 10-year sentence for "leaking state secrets abroad" in a 2004 e-mail sent to the editor of an overseas Web site. The message described government instructions on how his newspaper should cover the 15th anniversary of the military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. The U.S.-based Internet company Yahoo helped Chinese authorities identify Shi through his e-mail account.
Shi's imprisonment is among several abuses in China aided by the commercially driven decisions of U.S.-based companies. "Do no evil" Google opted for the lesser of two evils and started censoring search responses in China. To soften the blow, Google tells Internet users behind China's firewall that more responses are availablethey just cannot read them on Google.cn.
Microsoft has said it will abide by China's demands to shut down offending blogs. Under fire in the West, Microsoft has pledged that it will block access to material only within China or other countries where it is deemed unlawful, but will still make the sites available to outside users. The change in policy is a first response to the criticism Microsoft received for shutting down the site of Chinese blogger Zhao Jing, also known as Michael Anti.
Cisco Systems, which supplies much of the hardware that forms the World Wide Web, flatly denies that it has supplied China with the equipment and technology to control what the country's 100 million Internet users view online. Cisco's routers and other backbone equipment direct the digital flow of information over the Web and are integral to China's information firewall. Cisco says it has done no more than sell China the same equipment that it sells elsewhere in the world, and cannot stop China from adapting the equipment to its own needs. But skeptics question Cisco's claims, saying that the technical support the company supplies with the equipment could easily be helping Chinese technicians to effectively censor the Web.
How to confront this problem before it spreads further? In the short term, it is not realistic to expect significant improvement in China's behavior, but there are steps that would help change the way U.S.-based companies behave in such situations. We believe that because of their superior technology and market dominance, these companies have considerable leverage to resist the demands made by governments seeking to censor information or identify and persecute those who exercise their right to free expression.
First, make a commitment to transparency. Internet and technology companies should make public portions of any final agreement with governments requiring censorship or the loss of online anonymity.
Lobby as a group to resist government pressure. U.S.-based Internet companies successfully joined with international corporate clients to work out a compromise with the Chinese government to pull back stringent 1999 government restrictions on encrypting Internet traffic. Encryption laws are still tighter in China than elsewhere, but they are not as limiting as first proposed. The industry then was motivated by the desire to protect commercial transactions and money transfers. A similar industry-wide effort should be organized around issues of censorship and identity protection.
Insist on transparent due process. The legal basis for censorship actions taken in China has been unclear. Companies that have acceded to China's demands have not said whether they were presented with a court order or merely instructed by a politician. In most democracies, prosecutors, courts, and complainants seek Internet companies' cooperation in a transparent manner guided by law. We urge companies to use the law in China and elsewhere to insist on due process.
If voluntary steps fail, legislation should be enacted. CPJ joins with other press freedom advocates in urging voluntary measures. If Chinese pressure on Internet companies to censor proves too strong, legislation would be in order to bar U.S.-based firms from exposing journalists to persecution or enabling government censorship. Legislation could level the playing field for all Internet companies, setting a uniform standard for corporate behavior on free expression issues.
U.S. technology and Internet companies are in demand in China because they offer superior products and services not readily available elsewhere. This is precisely what gives these companies leverage to resist Chinese government pressure and defend the basic human rights of their users. This is not a balancing test, in which companies weigh concern for human rights with their obligation to shareholders. If U.S.-based Internet companies are able to resist Chinese government pressure, in fact, it may help their bottom line because Chinese consumers would be attracted to their commitment to privacy.
Regardless, we agree with Human Rights Watch that if the condition for doing business in China is an agreement to censor political speech or turn over e-mails from dissidents when requested by authorities, then these companies should not operate there. The moral principles at stake are not negotiable.
Background: China's attempts to control the Internet
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President Hu Jintao consolidated his leadership in March 2005 during a legislative session that formalized the transition of power from Jiang Zemin. Hu's administration has distinguished itself by its hard-line stance against dissidents, intellectuals, and activists, intensifying a far-reaching and severe crackdown on the media. In 2005, central authorities arrested and prosecuted journalists under broad national security legislation, while simultaneously ramping up the regulations that undermine the right to express opinions and transmit information in China.
The government's ambitious project of media control is unique. Never have so many lines of communication in the hands of so many people been met with such obsessive resistance from a central authority. The Chinese government has merged its participation in the world market and political affairs with a throwback attachment to Mao-era principles of propaganda. By fostering technological and commercial growth, it has placed the media in the hands of ordinary citizensand then used these same capabilities to block its citizens from blogging the word "democracy," publishing an independent analysis of relations with Taiwan, sending a text message about a protest, or reporting on the workings of the Propaganda Department.
More people use cell phones in China than anywhere else in the world, even as authorities continue to monitor and censor text messages. The nation's Internet users surpass 100 million by most estimates, although they face a massive and sophisticated government firewall restricting news and information.
In September 2005, the government announced a fresh set of restrictions on Internet news content that seemed to reflect its concerns over anti-Japanese demonstrations and increasingly frequent rural protests in 2005. The rules added two new areas of forbidden content to a list that already included news that "divulges state secrets," "jeopardizes the integrity of the nation's unity," "harms the honor or interests of the nation," or "propagates evil cults" (an apparent reference to the banned Falun Gong religious sect). The new regulations also banned content that incites "illegal" gatherings or demonstrations, or is distributed in the name of "illegal civil organizations." Web sites posting restricted news content would be fined or shut down, according to the regulations.
The new Internet restrictions also aimed to stem independent reporting and commentary by requiring bulletin board systems, Web sites associated with search engines, and online text messaging services to register as news organizations. The rules stated that Web sites that had not been established by an official news outlet ("news work unit") were forbidden from gathering or editing their own news or commentary. The regulations outlawed the kind of self-generated news and commentary that had become a fixture of search portals like Sina and Sohu and popular bulletin board systems such as Xici Hutong. Administrators of these sites had long censored their own news content and monitored public discussions to avoid being shut down by authorities, but the new restrictions added a layer of direct government involvement in their practices while limiting their legitimate scope.
Less than a week after these regulations were issued, the popular bulletin board system Yannan posted a notice that it would be closed for "cleanup and rectification" until further notice. The Web site's administrators had earlier deleted all entries related to the turbulent recall campaign in the village of Taishi, which pitted hundreds of protesting villagers against local officials and police. The Taishi protests captivated observers around the country, who saw it as a test of the government's commitment to experiments in "grassroots" democracy. Yannan was pivotal in providing updated information and commentary that went further in scope and diversity of opinion than the restricted coverage allowed in mainland print and broadcast news.
It seems unlikely that the Chinese government will curtail its efforts to control and suppress information in the near future. In a superficial way, authorities are meeting with success in controlling dissent. But many journalists, writers and activists in China are dedicated to getting information out via the Internet when they are frustrated by censored, state-sanctioned news outlets. Their passion for the truth keeps journalism alive.
Couple that journalistic desire with the increasing competitive pressures to produce stories that grab readers' attention and meet those readers' rising expectations for accurate and timely information, and you have a potent formula for change. It seems reasonable to assume that Chinese journalists will continue to push against the barriers the government throws in front of them.
The Committee to Protect Journalists continues to watch as growing numbers of Chinese reporters, driven by their own passion and aided by the Internet, turn themselves from state propaganda workers into solid news reporters in the best tradition of journalism. That is a trend that we think is sure to continue in China.
Jailed: Internet writers being held in China
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According to CPJ research, China was the world's leading jailer of journalists for the seventh consecutive year in 2005, with 32 behind bars on December 1. Around half of those were Internet journalists. The following are writers and journalists who remained in prison late last year for disseminating information online.
Wu Yilong, Zaiye Dang
Imprisoned: April 26, 1999
Mao Qingxiang, Zaiye Dang
Imprisoned: June 1999
Zhu Yufu, Zaiye Dang
Imprisoned: September 1999
Wu, an organizer for the banned China Democracy Party (CDP), was detained by police in Guangzhou on April 26, 1999. In June, near the 10th anniversary of the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, authorities detained CDP activist Mao. Zhu, also a leading CDP activist, was detained in September. The three were later charged with subversion for, among other things, establishing a magazine called Zaiye Dang (Opposition Party) and circulating pro-democracy writings online. On November 9, 1999, all the journalists were convicted of subversion. Wu was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Mao was sentenced to eight years, and Zhu to seven years.
Yang Zili, Yangzi de Sixiang Jiayuan
Xu Wei, Xiaofei Ribao
Jin Haike, freelance
Zhang Honghai, freelance
Imprisoned: March 13, 2001
Yang, Xu, Jin, and Zhang were detained on March 13 and charged with subversion on April 20. On May 29, 2003, the Beijing Intermediate Court sentenced Xu and Jin to 10 years in prison each on subversion charges, while Yang and Zhang were sentenced to eight years each on similar charges.
The four were active participants in the Xin Qingnian Xuehui (New Youth Study Group), an informal gathering of individuals who explored topics related to political and social reform and used the Internet to circulate relevant articles. Yang, the group's most prominent member, published a Web site, Yangzi de Sixiang Jiayuan (Yangzi's Garden of Ideas), which featured poems, essays, and reports by various authors on subjects such as the shortcomings of rural elections. Authorities closed the site after Yang's arrest.
Tao Haidong, freelance
Imprisoned: July 9, 2002
Tao, an Internet essayist and pro-democracy activist, was arrested in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and charged with "incitement to subvert state power." According to the Minzhu Luntan (Democracy Forum) Web site, which had published Tao's recent writing, his articles focused on political and legal reform. In one essay, titled "Strategies for China's Social Reforms," Tao wrote that "the Chinese Communist Party and democracy activists throughout society should unite to push forward China's freedom and democratic development or else stand condemned through the ages."
In early January 2003, the Urumqi Intermediate Court sentenced Tao to seven years in prison. His appeal to the XUAR Higher Court later in 2003 was rejected.
Abdulghani Memetemin, East Turkistan Information Center
Imprisoned: July 26, 2002
Memetemin, a writer, teacher, and translator who had actively advocated for the Uighur ethnic group in the northwestern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, was detained in Kashgar, a city in Xinjiang, on charges of "leaking state secrets."
In June 2003, Kashgar Intermediate People's Court sentenced him to nine years in prison, plus a three-year suspension of political rights. Radio Free Asia provided CPJ with court documents listing 18 specific counts against Memetemin, including translating state news articles into Chinese from Uighur; forwarding official speeches to the Germany-based East Turkistan Information Center (ETIC), a news outlet that advocates for an independent state for the Uighur ethnic group; and conducting original reporting for the center. The court also accused him of recruiting additional reporters for ETIC, which is banned in China.
Cai Lujun, freelance
Imprisoned: February 21, 2003
Cai was arrested at his home in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. In October 2003, the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People's Court sentenced him to three years in prison on subversion charges.
Cai, 35, had used pen names to write numerous essays distributed online calling for political reforms. His articles included "Political Democracy Is the Means; A Powerful Country and Prosperous Citizenry Is the Goal"; "An Outline for Building and Governing the Country"; and "The Course of Chinese Democracy."
Luo Changfu, freelance
Imprisoned: March 13, 2003
Public security officials arrested Luo at his home in Chongqing municipality and charged him with "subversion." On November 6, 2003, the Chongqing No. 1 Intermediate Court sentenced him to three years in prison.
Luo, 40, is an unemployed factory worker. Before his arrest, he had actively campaigned for the release of Internet essayist Liu Di, who was arrested in November 2002 and released on bail a year later. Luo had written a series of articles calling for Liu's release and protesting the Chinese government's censorship of online speech. His essays also called for political reforms in China.
Luo Yongzhong, freelance
Imprisoned: June 14, 2003
Luo, who has written numerous articles that have been distributed online, was detained in Changchun, Jilin province. On October 14, the Changchun Intermediate Court sentenced him to three years in prison and two years without political rights upon his release, which is scheduled for June 13, 2006.
In sentencing papers, which have been widely distributed online, the court stated that between May and June 2003, Luo wrote several essays that "attacked the socialist system, incited to subvert state power, and created a negative influence on society." Several specific articles were cited as evidence, including "At Last We See the Danger of the Three Represents!"a reference to a political theory formulated by former President Jiang Zeminand "Tell Today's Youth the Truth about June 4," a reference to the military crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protesters in June 1989. According to the court papers, the articles were published on online forums including Shuijing Luntan (Crystal) Web site.
Luo has also written a number of articles advocating the rights of people with disabilities.
Huang Jinqiu, Boxun News
Imprisoned: September 13, 2003
Huang, a columnist for the U.S.-based dissident news Web site Boxun News, was arrested in Jiangsu province. The Changzhou Intermediate People's Court sentenced him on September 27, 2004, to 12 years in prison on charges of "subversion of state power," plus four years' deprivation of political rights.
Huang worked as a writer and editor in his native Shandong province, as well as in Guangdong province, before leaving China in 2000 to study journalism in Malaysia. While he was overseas, Huang began writing political commentary for Boxun News under the pen name "Qing Shuijun." He also wrote articles on arts and entertainment under the name "Huang Jin." In January 2003, Huang wrote in his online column that he intended to form a new opposition party, the China Patriot Democracy Party. When he returned to China in August 2003, he eluded public security agents just long enough to visit his family in Shandong province. In the last article he posted on Boxun News, titled "Me and My Public Security Friends," Huang described being followed and harassed by security agents.
Kong Youping, freelance
Imprisoned: December 13, 2003
Kong, an essayist and poet, was arrested in Anshan, Liaoning province. He had written articles online that supported democratic reforms and called for a reversal of the government's "counterrevolutionary" ruling on the pro-democracy demonstrations of 1989, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
Kong's essays included an appeal to democracy activists in China that stated, "In order to work well for democracy, we need a well-organized, strong, powerful, and effective organization. Otherwise, a mainland democracy movement will accomplish nothing." Several of his articles and poems were posted on the Minzhu Luntan (Democracy Forum) Web site. On September 16, 2004, the Shenyang Intermediate People's Court sentenced Kong to 15 years in prison.
Shi Tao, freelance
Imprisoned: November 24, 2004
Officials from the Changsha security bureau detained Shi near his home in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, on November 24, 2004, several months after he e-mailed notes detailing the propaganda department's instructions to the media about coverage of the anniversary of the crackdown at Tiananmen Square. On December 14, authorities issued a formal arrest order, charging Shi with "leaking state secrets." On April 27, 2005, the Changsha Intermediate People's Court found Shi guilty and sentenced him to a 10-year prison term.
Shi's verdict, which was leaked to the public, revealed that the U.S.-based Internet company Yahoo had given Chinese authorities information about Shi's e-mail account that was used to convict him.
In November 2005, CPJ honored Shi with its annual International Press Freedom Award for his commitment to free expression.
Zheng Yichun, freelance
Imprisoned: December 3, 2004
Zheng, a former professor, was a regular contributor to overseas online news sites including Dajiyuan (Epoch Times). He wrote critically about the Communist Party and its control of the media. He was imprisoned in Yingkou, in Liaoning province. On September 20, Zheng was sentenced to seven years in prison, to be followed by three years' deprivation of political rights, for "inciting subversion."
Prosecutors cited dozens of articles written by the journalist, and listed the titles of several essays in which he called for political reform, increased capitalism in China, and an end to the practice of imprisoning writers.
Sources familiar with the case believe that Zheng's harsh sentence may be linked to Chinese leaders' objections to the Dajiyuan series "Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party," a widely read and controversial look at Chinese Communist Party history and current practices.
Zhang Lin, freelance
Imprisoned: January 29, 2005
Zhang, a political essayist and dissident who wrote regularly for overseas online news sites, was detained on his return to Bengbu in central China's Anhui province after traveling to Beijing to mourn the death of Zhao Ziyang, the ousted general secretary of the Communist Party. On March 19, 2005, Zhang's wife Fang Caofang received notice that he had been formally arrested on allegations of inciting subversion.
Zhang's lawyers argued that the six articles and one radio interview cited by the prosecution, in which he criticized the Communist Party and the Chinese government, were protected free expression. Zhang's wife believes that his imprisonment is also connected to essays he wrote about protests by unemployed workers and official scandals, according to Agence France-Presse.
On July 28, the court convicted Zhang and sentenced him to five years in prison. Zhang's appeals were rejected twice. He is detained at Bengbu No. 1 Detention Center. In September, Zhang waged the hunger strike for 28 days to protest his unjust sentence and the harsh conditions of his detention center.
Li Jianping, freelance
Imprisoned: May 27, 2005
Authorities detained Li on May 27 in Zibo, a city in northeastern China's Shandong province, and formally arrested him for defamation on June 30, according to ChinaEForum, a U.S.-based dissident news forum.
Li wrote frequently for overseas news Web sites banned in China, such as Boxun News, Epoch Times, China Democracy and ChinaEWeekly. Some of his articles directly criticized Chinese Communist Party leadership, including former and current Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Just days before his detention, Li wrote a strongly critical analysis of Hu Jintao's policy toward Taiwan, posted on ChinaEWeekly on May 17. It was unclear which of his articles led to his detention.
In August, Li was formally indicted on charges of inciting subversion.
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