Damning report reveals extent of Chinese online censorship

“How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.” – George Orwell, 1984

A report on press censorship in China during 2009 has revealed the extend to which the authorities attempt to control journalists both online and in print.

The report, from Brussels based organisation the International Federation of Journalists,  reports on blackouts and other activities undertaken by the Central Government.

George OrwellMeng Jianzhu, China’s minister of public security, regards the internet as an anti-government tool. “The internet has already become a powerful anti-government tool in China. It brings a new challenge to national security and social stability. We need to be cautious and strengthen the surveillance power in all aspects,” he said on the 1st of December 2009.

In addition to the usual blocking of the BBC, the authorities closed blogs, online forums, social networking sites and chat rooms, the report said.

Academic websites have also been closed and the IFJ reports that China’s filtering system has been ramped up “to control content to do with highly sensitive issues”. Online journalist Huang Qi was sentenced to three years in prison last November for posting a critical article about the Sichuan earthquake in 2006.

An editor who published an online interview with US president Barack Obama was assigned to a new position because he had left a large blank space signifying where the Central Propaganda Department had deleted information.

China has a well developed wing in various departments who monitor internet content. The report says these people supervise and manage online information; check and approve internet licences; close websites or demand delations; ensure restricted news articles are not uploaded or republished; ensure no one makes any comment on sensitive topics; instruct websites how and where to place articles; request government owned and some commercial websites to conduct weekly meetings in order to monitor the latest hot topics; permit republishing of only about 200 newspapers and websites; close websites or blogs and issue warnings or fines as necessary; and train cyber police to censor online content.

Blogs have been shut without explanation, and the report said, the authorities have begun to use criminal laws against bloggers including criminal defamation and inciting subversion of state power.

The full report can be found here, in PDF format.