China Closes Internet Forum

Chinese authorities shut down an online discussion board after users comment on a dissident's award.

China-Internet-Cafe-305.jpg Chinese netizens surf the Web at an Internet cafe in Hefei, in central China's Anhui province, Jan. 25, 2007.

HONG KONG—Chinese authorities have closed a popular Internet discussion forum, or Bulletin Board System (BBS), in the wake of the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, and are holding its organizer under house arrest.

The organizer, known by his online nickname of Zhang Shuji, or Party Secretary Zhang, said the forum was closed on Friday after it began a discussion of Liu's Nobel Prize.

"I have been confined to house arrest and prevented from going out for the past few days," said Zhang, who was contacted by national security police in Beijing and told to close the popular "1984bbs" site.

"They told me that if I carried on like that, then I would have to take responsibility for the road I was taking," he said.

"They meant that disasters would keep happening to me, like in the past when I lost my job and my apartment," said Zhang, a journalist in his twenties who lost his official job after police put pressure on his employer over his running of the forum.

Zhang said that while he was prepared to make a personal sacrifice in the cause of press freedom, he was unable to ask his wife and family to bear the consequences.

"I don't care if they get their hooks into me, but I can't allow them to get their hooks into the family who depend on me," he said, explaining why he had agreed to close the forum in line with police demands.

He said he would keep a back-up copy of articles and discussions that were already posted to the site.

"I hope one day in the not-too-distant future to be able to open it again," Zhang said.

Discussion blocked

Netizens appeared annoyed but unsurprised by the closure of the forum.

"The 1984bbs was a forum that never investigated anyone and never removed posts [for censorship reasons]," wrote user "yiyang" on the microblogging service Twitter. "The government didn't want a relatively normal discussion board to continue to exist."

Some journalists and activists using the microblogging service provided by top Chinese Web portal said they had been prevented from sending any updates in the wake of Liu's Nobel award on Friday.

An editor based in mainland China who asked to remain anonymous said he knew of a number of people who had been prevented from sending messages out on the service.

"I think it's a temporary measure," he said. "They think that people will have a lot less to say after three days ... Now I can send updates, but anything I send that is the slightest bit sensitive gets deleted immediately."

He said the closure of the forum was a backlash against Liu's Nobel award.

"I think that the closure of a single forum isn't a huge thing in itself, but I think we're going to see a much bigger crackdown to come ... We are about to see an era of suffocation."

China's 420 million Internet users are subjected to a complex system of filters, blocks, and censorship by service providers, known collectively as the "Great Firewall," or GFW.

The authorities use a system of "sensitive words" to weed out content that the government deems subversive, including in recent days the name "Liu Xiaobo" and the words "2010 Nobel Peace Prize."

One of RFA's popular blogs in China was also blocked on Monday.

Prize to dissident

Liu Xiaobo has asked his wife, Liu Xia, who is currently under heavy police surveillance and virtual house arrest, to travel to Norway to claim his Nobel Peace Prize during the Dec. 10 ceremony in Oslo.

Liu Xia said that while the Chinese government has not expressly informed her that she will not be allowed to travel to Norway, she expects it will be very "difficult" to go.

On Tuesday, China's foreign ministry said that awarding a jailed dissident with the Nobel Peace Prize shows a lack of respect for the country's legal system.

Liu was jailed in December 2008 for 11 years for "incitement to subvert state power" after he co-authored Charter 08, a controversial document calling for sweeping political reforms.

Many Charter 08 activists have since become regular targets for police questioning, detention, and periods of house arrest.

Reported by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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