Assange Blasts Great Firewall

WikiLeaks boss finds China's Internet controls 'biggest impediment.'

2011.01.13
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wikileaks-china-firewall-30.jpg WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, (C) leaves court in southeast London, Jan. 11, 2011.
AFP

The founder of the WikiLeaks whistleblowing website, Julian Assange, hit out at Beijing's aggressive censorship of the Internet in a media interview on Thursday.

Assange, an Australian hacker who sparked fury in Washington with the release of a slew of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, said China is the "technological enemy" of WikiLeaks, because it is so hard to ensure access to the site from behind tight Web controls.

His lawyers say there are moves afoot to ensure Assange, 39, is sent to the United States, where he could face punishment over the leaks.

In an interview with Britain's New Statesman magazine, Assange said China's complex system of blocks, filters, and human censorship, known as the Great Firewall, is the biggest impediment to WikiLeaks online.

When it comes to fighting Internet censorship, "China is the worst offender," Assange told the magazine while staying with a friend in the U.K., where he is fighting attempts to extradite him to Sweden over claims of sexual assault.

He said WikiLeaks has been fighting "a running battle" to get its leaked documents through to Chinese netizens.

"China has aggressive and sophisticated interception technology that places itself between every reader inside China and every information source outside China," said Assange.

"There are now all sorts of ways Chinese readers can get on to our site," he added.

Tools

Social networking site Facebook, video-sharing giant YouTube, and microblogging site Twitter are blocked in China, though many netizens are able to access them using circumvention tools.

An official blacklist of banned "sensitive words" is applied to filters and Web pages, technology experts say.

Guangzhou-based writer and netizen Ye Du said the Great Firewall, known online as the GFW, was much cruder in its early stages than it is now.

"In its earlier years, the the Great Firewall was aimed at the blocking of websites," Ye said.

"In recent years, they have added filtering tools, so that any sensitive words carried within websites will automatically lead to the deletion of those pages."

Sichuan-based computer technician Pu Fei said Beijing does not have access to more advanced technology than other countries. Much of the equipment for the Great Firewall is imported from U.S. companies like Cisco.

"China uses its state machinery to close down websites, including the Internet Supervision Bureau and other relevant departments," Pu said.

"They see the Internet as their biggest enemy. For this reason, the authorities will close down any dissident websites."

State involvement

He said the blocks include the websites of Hong Kong media, which enjoy greater press freedom than news outlets on the Chinese mainland.

"China doesn't necessarily have the best technology in the world, but it uses it to the greatest effect, because the state gets involved," Pu said.

"Some ... universities have also got involved in Great Firewall projects."

Assange maintains that attempts to extradite him to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault by two women are politically motivated and linked to WikiLeaks' activities.

He appeared briefly in a London court on Tuesday. The full extradition hearing is slated for Feb. 7-8.

The hacker has been living at the country estate of a friend in eastern England since being released on bail on December 16, nine days after his arrest by British police on a Swedish warrant.

Assange's lawyer Mark Stephens has accused the Swedish government of secretly planning to extradite him to the United States, although justice ministry officials in Stockholm have denied this.

A U.S. court has reportedly subpoenaed the Twitter accounts of four WikiLeaks supporters as part of a criminal investigation into the leaks.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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