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Google steps out from behind the Great Firewall

I actually thought I was still dreaming this morning when I heard that Google was going to stop censoring Internet search results in China (and, if necessary, pull out if the country altogether). But it’s true – you can read all about it on the ‘Official Google Blog’ – the stance they’re taking is as tough as it sounds.

This is an issue that Amnesty has been campaigning on for several years, and one in which I’ve been closely involved since we launched our report, Undermining Freedom of Expression in China: the role of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google and the campaign in June 2006.

And it’s welcome news. We’ve long called for Internet companies operating in China to abide by their own stated business principles, which emphasise their role in the free access and dissemination of information around the world. Today’s news represents a return towards Google’s original motto, “Don’t be evil”, words which rang rather hollow while they colluded with the Chinese authorities in abusing human rights. What’s more, it’s good to see a company pushing back against the Chinese authorities and actually challenging the requirements placed on them to censor and filter search results.

Of course, there’s already a lot of speculation about what Google’s ‘real’ motives are – that they want to extract as much positive PR from a commercially-motivated withdrawal from a market that they’ve failed to crack, for example.

But I prefer to look on this as a genuinely positive development. At the very least, public discussion of censorship in China might help move things forward for Chinese web users. And public exposure of the persecution of human rights defenders in China – a ‘cyber-attack’ on whom seems to have been the final straw for Google – can again only be for the good. It’s only a couple of weeks ago that Liu Xiaobo was jailed for eleven years for publishing online the ‘Charter 08’ call for political reform.

My hope is that Google’s change of heart, splashed on the front page of the FT, will embarass the Chinese authorities, just as the issue of Internet censorship did during the Olympics. And I also hope it will put added pressure on Google’s Western competitors like Microsoft and Yahoo!, who continue to operate within China and remain complicit in the authorities’ censorship of the web.

Ultimately I’d like to see Google’s discussions with the Chinese authorities result in a more open Internet in China, one where Chinese web users can read Amnesty’s reports, for example (and disagree with them if they wish). This may still be some way off, a dream, even. But then who would have thought that a massive corporation would dare defy the Chinese authorities and threaten to pull out of the country on human rights grounds? Stranger things have happened.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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