China Raids Bloggers Home, as Political Arrests Double

2007-11-30
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HepBsite200.jpg
The Hepatitis B site, whose forums were shut down. Image: www.hbvhbv.com

HONG KONG—Authorities in Shanghai have raided the home of a Chinese blogger after he posted a detailed account of the closure of his magazine earlier in the year.

The move comes as part of what many see as a tightening of control over China’s netizens. It also follows a doubling in the number of those detained under state security laws last year.

“Five people came to see me at about 10 this morning,” former journalist and editor of the nonprofit Minjian magazine Zhai Minglei told RFA’s Mandarin service.

“Three of them showed ID that confirmed they were from the Shanghai cultural business bureau. They said that I was involved in the illegal publication and distribution of materials, and acting as a freelance editor. They took away 41 copies of Minjian magazine,” Zhai said.

Magazine banned

We haven't been allowed any leeway at all. They just shut it down immediately. This is an illegal act.

Minjian is published under the auspices of the social and citizenship development research center of Zhongshan University in Guangzhou. Its publication license was revoked by the news publishing bureau of the Guangzhou municipal government on July 6.

More than 5,000 copies of the summer edition were confiscated at that time. The online edition of Minjian was closed by the city’s Internet police on Aug. 20. An edition hosted on an overseas server was blocked inside China in October.

Zhai reported his blog blocked in China last week, although the U.S.-hosted site was once more accessible from China on Thursday, when Zhai posted an account of the raid.

“They also took the hard drive of my computer. Then they left, saying I would have to come for further investigation...I told them that the magazine is published by Zhongshan University, which hires me to edit it. I am not a freelance editor,” Zhai told reporter Ding Xiao.

Zhai said he was sure the investigations were linked to a highly detailed account of the closure of Minjian magazine that he posted on his blog, Yibao , drawing dozens of messages of support.

In November, Zhai attended a conference of Chinese bloggers in Beijing, where the majority of topics were highly technical and involved the innovative use of the new generation of online applications, known as Web 2.0.

New rules

At one forum, foreign media organizations were strongly criticized for a perceived over-emphasis on freedom of speech and Web-based censorship.

In one presentation, titled “The Chinese blogosphere in the eyes of Western academics, and what they’re doing wrong,” one speaker told the CN Bloggercon conference that Western academics focused too much on censorship when considering China’s blogosphere and that they were missing important changes.

At least one commentator agreed: “Too many Western journalists/academia people have been drinking too much of their own Kool-aid, and the so-called ‘leader of the free world’ is giving freedom, democracy, dual-process, a bad name,” wrote “Ji Village News.”

“Political grandstanding type of talk is cheap and serves only to divide people and drive them apart. Small but concrete steps happening on the ground are what’s needed.”

China’s Internet authorities issued a new set of rules earlier this year, aimed at curbing the spread of “interactive” Internet sites such as bulletin boards (BBS), chat rooms, blogs, and discussion forums.

Amid thousands of “mass incidents,” protests, sit-ins, disputes, and riots reported across the country in official statistics annually, the authorities have a perennial fear of the informal connections made possible by civil organizations, especially with the speed and increasing availability of the Internet to all but the poorest in China.

Plug pulled

Under the new rules issued in early September by the Ministry of Information Industry in Beijing, all providers offering such services must reapply for a license to operate, according to a statement posted on the Guangdong provincial telecommunications bureau Web site.

Those without a license under the new scheme were ordered closed.

Around politically sensitive dates such as the 17th Communist Party Congress in October, authorities pulled the plug on entire Internet Data Centers (IDCs), knocking out thousands of sites. Many of those that were cut off hadn't broken any rules.

IDCs and Web publishers were then told they would have to re-apply for their operating licenses, but with the bar set much higher than before.

Many in the industry said they had noticed that Web sites and articles previously regarded as meeting government requirements were now being ruled out.

An example of tighter controls came when a popular Web site running an information service and vital online support forums for carriers of the Hepatitis B virus was closed at the end of November.

Many rely on forums

An official at the Beijing municipal telecommunications bureau said they had received many phone calls about the closure. “It was probably closed because they neglected to file a required application,” the official said.

The Hepatitis B site, at www.hbvhbv.com, had been running for six years without any interference from the authorities—until now.

“We haven’t been allowed any leeway at all. They just shut it down immediately. This is an illegal act,” forum moderator and consultant Lu Jun said.

Lu, who also acts as a consultant for the NGO that owns the site, said the problem had arisen when the site was reclassified as a provider of healthcare services, and had most of its forums removed following recommendations from the Ministry of Health.

China now has 120 million known carriers of Hepatitis B. This Web site has been a strong force in the last three years in fighting social discrimination against them.

“The feedback from the Health Ministry was that our forums were inappropriate,” Lu said. “After all, what can people who have the same illness say to each other? They don’t need to talk to each other. If they are sick they can go to the hospital to seek treatment...This is totally unacceptable,” he told reporter Fang Yuan.

State security arrests

Another forum moderator, Guo Dong, said the HBV forums had provided a slender lifeline to some Hepatitis B carriers who were experiencing severe mental health difficulties as a result of their diagnosis.

“Many people come to this forum when they are on the brink of psychological breakdown, to get a little emotional support. These closures are going to affect a lot of people,” Guo said.

“In the past we have had a lot of people on the forums talking about committing suicide. Whenever we saw someone talking like that, we immediately found out their location and found a volunteer to go and support them. There was a young lad in Shenzhen recently who was going to jump off a building... and we sent someone round there to talk him down. So this Web site has really helped a lot of people.”

Chinese arrests for “endangering state security” more than doubled in 2006 to 604, compared with just 296 in the previous year, according to official statistics recently released by the Chinese government.

The just-published 2007 China Law Yearbook records that state prosecutors approved the arrest of 604 individuals detained by public security and state security police in national security cases. Prosecutions were initiated in 258 cases involving 561 individuals in 2006, compared with 185 cases involving 349 people in 2005.

The figures provide the only official clue about exactly how many political prisoners China has, human rights groups say.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Fang Yuan and Ding Xiao. Service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Blog: RFA Unplugged

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