Freedom House Dismayed by New Chinese Internet Restrictions

Washington

Freedom House is deeply disturbed by regulations issued this week by China's authoritarian leaders that warn video-sharing websites to increase censorship, further restricting what is already one of the world's most repressive internet environments. The regulations come just days after China's government blocked YouTube and objected to the release of a video that appeared to show Chinese forces beating Tibetans during protests last spring.

The detailed regulations from the State Administration of Radio, Film, and TV include a ban on videos that show "depictions of torture" and "distortions of Chinese culture or history," government code used to mean interpretations that depart from the Communist Party line. Videos that "hurt the feelings of the public" or "disparage" security forces or leaders are also prohibited. The regulations specifically mention videos from "netizen reporters," who have played a critical role in informing Chinese citizens about police brutality, the melamine scandal and the lethal consequences of corruption surrounding the Sichuan earthquake. Video-sharing websites have also become an important forum for expressing frustration at and ridiculing the state-run Chinese Central Television.

"These new restrictions represent a new low for China's Communist Party leaders, who already wield the world's most complex system for repressing internet freedom," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "These restrictions will harm millions of Chinese citizens who depend on the internet as a key source for holding a secretive and often repressive government to account.”

China is ranked Not Free in Freedom on the Net, Freedom House's new assessment of internet and mobile phone freedom in 15 countries. China ties with Cuba for the country with the most curbs on users' rights, including prosecutions for online activities, surveillance and extra-legal harassment of bloggers. (Cuba receives a lower score overall for having more obstacles to access and content limitations.)

The study also identifies China as a leader in "outsourcing censorship," the practice of requiring private actors such as service providers and blog hosting companies to censor and monitor users. This trend is born out in the new regulations which require service providers to "improve their program content administration" by hiring "well-qualified service personnel to review and filter content." Chinese authorities and private providers already employ hundreds of thousands of people to monitor, censor, and manipulate online content.

Since 2007, the Chinese government has required all domestic video-sharing websites to be state-owned, except for several prominent pre-existing sites like Tudou.com, 56.com and Youku.com. These were instead closed in 2008 for several days to conduct a "self-inspection" and ensure adequate content controls were in place. Authorities also have been known to block international websites like YouTube and Facebook around sensitive events such as the Beijing Olympics, the protests in Tibet and the Communist Party Congress.

"Countries and companies who care about human rights and the well-being of ordinary Chinese should let the Chinese government know that the Party’s curbs on the internet freedom of its citizens are simply unacceptable,” said Windsor.

China is ranked Not Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.

For more information on China, visit:
Freedom on the Net
Freedom in the World 2009
Freedom in the World 2008: China
Freedom of the Press 2008: China

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in China since 1972.

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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