Three cyber-dissidents arrested and websites closed in new wave of Internet censorship

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Three cyber-dissidents arrested and websites closed in new wave of Internet censorship

Reporters Without Borders called today for the release of three cyber-dissidents who have been arrested in the past two weeks – Zhang Jianhong, Yang Maodong and Chen Shuqing – and voiced concern about an increase in the censorship of online publications.

“The current crackdown on pro-democracy and human rights activists, which includes harassment, threats and arbitrary arrests, is very worrying,” the press freedom organisation said. “The authorities are also trying to gag cyber-dissidents by shutting down their online publications. They have gone so far as claim that all the banned sites have been involved in criminal activities but it is clear this censorship is above all politically-motivated.”

A 48-year-old writer and poet using the pseudonym Li Hong, Zhang was arrested on 6 September in Ningbo, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, and was charged with “incitement to subvert the state’s authority.” Twenty policemen went to his home with a search warrant and seized the disk drives from his two computers and his phone book. They also interrogated his wife, Dong Min, about the company he kept and the articles he posted on foreign websites.

Zhang, a member of the Chinese branch of the independent writers association PEN, already spent a year and a half in a reeducation-through-work camp for “counter-revolutionary propaganda” after getting involved in the 1989 pro-democracy movement. He founded the literary website in August 2005 and was its editor until the authorities shut it down in March 2006. He also wrote regularly for sites such as Boxun and The Epoch Times.

Writer and civil rights activist Yang, who is better known by the name Guo Feixiong, was arrested at his home in the city Guangzhou (in the southern province of Guangdong) on 14 September 2006. Police with a warrant carried out a search and seized three computers and personal notes. He has been charged with “illegal business” for allegedly publishing and selling 20,000 books in an improper manner by setting up an fake publishing house and using an ISBN (international standard book number) without permission.

His wife, Zhang Qing, insists that the charges are “completely baseless.” He is currently being held by the Public Security Bureau in Guangzhou. His wife tried to visit him yesterday but was not given permission. Aged 40, Yang is known, among other things, for supporting the peasant population of the village of Taishi (in Guangdong province) who protested against local government corruption in September 2005.

He helped them get legal aid for a lawsuit against the village chief and wrote many articles about them for websites such as the forum Yannan, which was shut down on 1 October 2005. After being accused of “personally leading demonstrations by villagers with the aim of overthrowing the local authorities,” he was arrested for the first time on 6 October 2005 on a charge of “disturbing the peace.” He was released three and a half months later without being tried. Since then he has been constantly harassed by the police and beaten three times, the last time in August.

Chen, who has a masters in biology and is a member of the banned China Democracy Party (CDP), was arrested on 14 September when he went to a local police station in Hangzhou (in Zhejiang province) in response to a summons from the police. Like Zhang, he was charged with “incitement to subvert the state’s authority.” The police search his home and seized his computer’s disk drives as well as personal documents.

Chen was already detained for four months in 1999 for helping to create the CDP. After his release, he studied for a law degree and passed the examination to become a lawyer in 2005 but the Zhejiang Bureau of Justice refused him a lawyer’s licence on the grounds that he had posted articles on the Internet that violated the constitution. Chen appealed and re-appealed against this decision before the courts but lost both times.

Websites closed for political reasons

The governmental news agency Xinhua (New China) quoted the Ministry of Public Security as saying it closed 320 “illegal” websites and suppressed 15,000 “items of hazardous information” on the Internet from 6 to 8 September. Most were allegedly implicated in criminal activity such as online gambling or fraud, or the sale of arms, explosives or narcotics. But Reporters Without Borders has registered several cases of sites being shut down for political reasons in recent weeks.

The website of the magazine Baixing (The People), which is based in the eastern province of Jiangsu, was shut down on 6 September after posting reports and comments by readers about a resident of the village of Jiangyi who was beaten to death on 13 August by thugs hired by local officials for objecting to the demolition of his home for urban planning purposes.

The website’s editor, Huang Liantian, told Reuters that the provincial authorities “demanded we remove anything about the demolition, otherwise the website would be closed.” Following its closure, the magazine’s online edition was relaunched at a new address registered in Guangdong province on 12 September without any changes to its content.

Two editors on the Netease ( website, Tang Yan and Liu Xianghui, were demoted after posting a poll on 4 September that asked readers: “If you were reincarnated, would you like to be Chinese?” Of the 10,234 site visitors who had answered by 10 September, 64 per cent said they would not, 37.5 per cent said “the dignity of Chinese people is not sufficiently respected” and 17.6 per cent said “it is impossible for a Chinese citizen to own his home.”

The website of Zou Tao (, a 32-year-old blogger based in Shenzen, a city near Hong Kong, was closed on 11 September as a result of the popularity of his Internet campaign, launched in April, to convince people not to buy apartments for three years in order to cool down an overheated real estate market. His campaign had won the support of tens of thousands of Internet users and had an impact throughout China.

The closure of his site was probably precipitated by his announcement in August that he was going to run as a candidate for Luoho district representative in the People’s Congress of Shenzen in elections taking place on 28 September. Candidates are normally nominated by Communist Party local committees, so Zou’s candidature would have been seen as a threat by the authorities. He has been banned from leaving the region and has been threatened by the Shenzen Public Security Bureau. Several of his blogs have also been closed but one,, is still accessible.

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