Censorship in China – on the Internet and Elsewhere

Media reports today from the Times Online (UK) remind us all that censorship is alive and well in China. The story describes how two Chinese national women (ages 77 and 79!) — who applied 5 times for permits to protest at designated venues their house evictions relating to the Chinese Olympics — have been sentenced to one year of “re-education through labour.”

Three years ago I raised on SLAW in a post the issue of Internet censorship in China (and others here have done so as well).

I am amazed at how tightly the Chinese government has been able to control Internet access. The OpenNet Initiative country page for China describes a number of political, legal and regulatory, and cultural restrictions that allow such Internet censorship to take place (footnotes omitted):

Although China’s constitution formally guarantees freedom of expression and publication, as well as the protection of human rights, legal and administrative regulations ensure that the Chinese Communist Party will be supported in its attempt at strict supervision of all forms of media. Government ministries and Party organs also use both formal and informal controls, including policies and instructions, editor responsibility for content, economic incentives, defamation liability, and intimidation, and other forms of pressure to discipline media.

Many of these formal and informal controls have been extended to Chinese cyberspace, though the greater range of nonstate actors makes legal regulation over the Internet a more complex effort. China’s legal control over Internet access and usage is multilayered and achieved by distributing criminal and financial liability, licensing and registration requirements, and self-monitoring instructions to nonstate actors at every stage of access, from the ISP to the content provider and the end user. The Internet has been targeted for monitoring since before it was even commercially available, and the government seems intent on keeping regulatory pace with its growth and development.

One would think that technological advances will increasingly make censoring the Internet more difficult. Or one would hope.

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