“Government security paranoia in the run-up to the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October has led to a reinforcement of online censorship and abusive behaviour towards foreign journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said today. “A case of police brutality towards three foreign journalists was particularly unacceptable.”
The press freedom organisation added: “What the authorities are trying to portray as a big celebration is turning into a major head-ache for Internet users and a reporters.”
Internet control agencies have redoubled efforts to prevent Internet users based in China, including foreign residents, from using censorship circumvention software such as Freegate and virtual private networks (VPN). Experts have told Reporters Without Borders that tens of thousands of IP addresses suspected by the authorities of using Freegate and VPNs, especially those that are free, have been blocked in the past few days.
“The Electronic Great Wall has never been as consolidated as it is now, on the eve of the 1 October anniversary, proving that the Chinese government is not so sure of its record,” Reporters Without Borders said. The new restrictions are making it even more difficult to access social-networking websites such Facebook and Twitter, or YouTube’s video-sharing sites, which have been blocked since July.
China’s leaders have made combating separatism one of the watchwords of the 60th anniversary, and new regulations have just been issued for combating online separatism in the far-western province of Xinjiang.
A Reporters Without Borders study of Uyghur-language and Xinjiang-based websites has established that the clampdown imposed during last July’s rioting in the province has not been loosened. Most of the sites that existed before the unrest are either still inaccessible or their content has not been updated. Of the 65 sites included in the study, 54 are still blocked for Internet users in China or abroad.
Even Tianshannet.com, a Xinjiang-based website that was held up by the authorities as an example of a site that respected the regulations, is no longer accessible. Xinjiang residents have been cut off from the Internet for almost three months and Uyghurs are being deprived of all news and information that is independent of the official media.
Three China-based Mongol websites – Mongol Ger Association (http://www.mongolger.net/), Mongol People Chat Room (MGLhun), which is hosted on the Sina.com site (http://www.sina.com.cn/), and Mongolian People (http://www.mongolhun.com/) – have been rendered inaccessible in the past few weeks.
The Mongol Ger Association site had become very active in promoting the Mongol language and had referred to sensitive subjects such as arbitrary arrests and the right to land access for Mongols. The site’s owner, identified as Sodmongol, was arrested by the Chinese authorities on 13 June. Mongol People Chat Room, which covered politics, culture and the environment and organised events centred on the rights of Mongols in China, was closed without prior warning.
The Mongolian People site offered a range of services to Mongols in China, putting people in touch with each other and organising charity events. The authorities accused all three sites of conspiring with hostile and separatist foreign forces – the same grounds that have been cited for censoring dozens of Tibetan websites and forums (release http://www.rsf.org/Authorities-tighten-grip-on.html).
Chinese hackers have meanwhile posted crude messages and xenophobic slogans on Taiwanese and Australian film festival websites in protest against the screening of “The 10 Conditions of Love,” a documentary about Uyghur exiled activist Rebiya Kadeer, who is blamed by the Chinese authorities for stirring up the violence in Xinjiang. The hackers, who did not hide their affiliation to the Communist Party of China, called on the festival organisers to apologise to the Chinese people for including the film in their programmes.
China-based foreign journalists have also been the target of hacker attacks. Emails containing viruses have been sent to French, American, Singaporean and Italian correspondents. The Chinese assistants of foreign reporters have received booby-trapped emails that try to establish a parallel control over the recipient’s computer. At the same time, Chinese websites based abroad such as Boxun have received very aggressive distributed denial-of-service attacks DDOS (in which targeted servers are swamped by simultaneous communication requests).
Police have used violence against foreign journalists trying to cover the preparations for the 1 October parade. Three journalists employed by the Japanese news agency Kyodo, for example, were attacked in their hotel room by plain-clothes men after a parade rehearsal on 18 September. They were hit about the head and their computers were smashed.
This occurred after the authorities warned more than a dozen of foreign news media not to film or photograph the preparations. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China has asked the foreign ministry to explain the ban, which is not based on any rule or law.