A popular service used by many of China's 730 million internet users to get around government censorship has shut down in the wake of a ban on virtual private networks, or VPNs, by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Popular service provider GreenVPN sent out a notice to customer saying its services would be closing from July 1, while the Apple and Android stores have blocked downloads of GreenVPN apps to their customers since that date.
The company took the action after "receiving a notice from regulatory departments," it said in a recent statement.
A Beijing internet user surnamed Xiang confirmed to RFA that her GreenVPN app is showing "no internet connection."
"Basically, that means that the VPN has been shut down," Xiang said.
"The authorities aren't allowing the VPN service providers to enable people to bypass the Great Firewall any more."
"I can't get past the Great Firewall on my Chinese-made iPhone, but a friend of mine who has an i-Phone made in South Korea can," she said.
"We are both using the same circumvention app, but the one made in China can't get around the Great Firewall any more."
Guangzhou-based internet user Huang Yongxiang said he has been having similar problems.
"It has been pretty difficult to get online in the past few days,"
Huang said. "It used to be a smooth experience, without many dropped connections, but recently the connection keeps getting cut off, sometimes every 10 minutes or half an hour."
The move comes after new rules banning the use of circumvention tools to get around internet censorship were apparently piloted in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing earlier this year.
Chongqing only recently made public the new regulations, which came into effect last July and ban the city's 50 million residents from "scaling the Great Firewall."
Individuals and companies that use tools like VPNs to circumvent the complex array of blocks, filters and human censorship were ordered to disconnect, while anyone profiting from such activity will be fined, according to the Chongqing regulations.
This could include anyone seeking to read news that the government regards as unflattering, businesses wanting to use blocked social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google to communicate, and academics seeking access to overseas research.
But China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said it would implement a raft of new controls of online content in January, including restricting VPNs.
Meanwhile, Chinese censors have sparked a storm of international criticism after they issued a set of rules banning the depiction of "abnormal sexual acts ... such as homosexuality" from online video content.
Obscene sexual content
The China Netcasting Services Association (CNSA), which is tasked by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to monitor and control online video, audio and streaming services, issued the guidelines for online multimedia content on June 30.
"Content in vulgar taste and with obscene sexual content ... that depicts abnormal sexual relations such as incest, homosexuality, perversion, sexual abuse, sadism or sexual violence," was listed as banned in the regulations posted to the association's official website.
Content that "shows and promotes unhealthy love and marital situations, like extramarital affairs, one night stands, sexual freedom or wife-swapping and so on" is also banned.
Prolonged shots of any sexual activity that provide "sensory stimulation" are also to be avoided, the order says.
Any organization posting broadcast content online must review it beforehand, checking for its compliance with the new rules, including overall plot-lines, shots, lines, sound effects, characterisation and subtitles, it says.
"Political orientation, values, and aesthetic orientation" must also be taken into account.
"China’s decision to implement a new ban on homosexual content on the internet is irresponsible and dangerous," the U.K.'s Gay Times said in a recent article on its website.
And the Chinese LGBT magazine Gay Voice said: "The false information in these regulations has already caused harm to the Chinese LGBT community – who are already subjected to prejudice and discrimination."
The rules are the latest in a string of draconian regulations issued by Beijing in a bid to exert complete control over what its citizens can see, or post, online.
Last November, Beijing issued a raft of new measures require any websites operating in China to register with a Chinese domain name, which will be subject to state control and can be used to shut down entire websites within the country-level .cn top-level domain.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.