China: new report exposes persecution of internet users

Amnesty International said:

'Internet users in China are increasingly caught up in a pernicious system restricting their fundamental human rights. Anyone surfing the internet could be at risk of arbitrary detention and imprisonment, even death.

'Everyone detained purely for peacefully publishing their views or other information on the internet or for accessing certain websites are prisoners of conscience. They should be released immediately and unconditionally.'

In its 15-page report, 'State Control of the Internet in China', Amnesty International shows that China's response to rapid internet expansion in China has, during the past five years, included the imprisoning of numerous people for 'internet crimes.' Offences such as printing pro-democracy material, downloading and disseminating Falun Gong texts, disseminating 'reactionary documents' via the internet, as well as various vague charges of 'subversion' and 'endangering state security,' have led to long prison and labour camp sentences.

Those imprisoned have included a shopkeeper, a geophysicist, a computer engineer, a student, a civil servant and a former police officer. Prison terms, some after secret trials, have commonly been for three to four years, though several have been longer. In May this year a former policeman was imprisoned for 11 years.

Three of those detained for internet-related offences have died in custody, two apparently as a result of police torture. Both were members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, banned as a 'heretical organisation' in July 1999.

Since January 2001, when China made the provision of 'state secrets' to organisations and individuals over the internet a capital crime, internet users could face a death sentence in a country where the death penalty is imposed in thousands of cases a year.

Since 1995 China has introduced over 60 rules and regulations covering internet use, and 30,000 state security personnel are reportedly monitoring websites, chat rooms and email messages. New controls have including filtering systems, the blocking of foreign websites and search engines, the closure of websites that post information on corruption or articles critical of government, and the creation of special internet police.

Amnesty International's report details blocking and monitoring tactics employed by the Chinese authorities. In August 2002 China blocked access to the Google internet search engine, diverting users to local Chinese search engines. In recent weeks, Beijing has shifted tactics again, opening up some previously blocked websites, but making it impossible for users to open documents on those sites that relate to China.

China's Ministry of State Security has reportedly installed tracking devices on internet service providers to monitor individual email accounts, and all internet cafes have been required to register and inform the police of their customers' activities.

The Chinese authorities have also forced internet companies into 'web policing.' In August 2002 a 'Public Pledge on Self-Discipline' was introduced under which signatories agreed not to post information that might 'jeopardise state security, disrupt social stability, contravene laws and spread superstition and obscenity.' The pledge has been signed by over 300 companies, including US-based search engine Yahoo!

Amnesty International's report also raises concerns that some overseas companies have reportedly sold China technology to censor the internet.

As well as calling for the release of those held for 'internet crimes', the human rights organisation is urging the Chinese government to review measures restricting freedom of expression over the internet in line with international standards.

The full 'State Control of the Internet in China' report is available at: http://www.web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/recent/asa170072002

An accompanying report, 'State Control of the Internet in China: Appeal Cases,' is available at: http://www.web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/recent/asa170462002

View latest press releases