China, Vietnam 'Biggest Prisons for Netizens'

Together with North Korea and Burma, they are dubbed Internet 'enemies.'
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Chinese surf the Internet at a cybercafe in Beijing, June 3, 2009.
Chinese surf the Internet at a cybercafe in Beijing, June 3, 2009.

China, North Korea, Burma, and Vietnam are on a new “Enemies of the Internet” list compiled by global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

"They often compound Internet repression with strict filtering, access problems, cyberdissident surveillance and online propaganda," the group said in a report released in conjunction with the World Day Against Censorship on March 12.

It described China and Vietnam as among the "world's biggest prisons for netizens."

China topped the world in holding 77 netizens in jail while Vietnam was on second spot with 17 behind bars.

A new wave of arrests in Vietnam preceded the January ruling Communist Party congress while Beijing launched a series of arrests in February following online calls for "Jasmine" protests triggered by the uprisings in North Africa and Arab states.

For the first time in China, Twitter users were arrested for their posts on the social network, the report said, adding that Internet users were also becoming innovative in circumventing censorship.

"The Great Wall of censorship continues to rise higher and higher around the Middle Kingdom’s readers, listeners, TV viewers and cybernauts," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Yet defenders of free expression are managing to circumvent it, or scale it. As these 'true men' join forces in pursuing this effort, they will win," the report said, calling on governments, corporations, and Internet users in democratic countries "to give them their unwavering support."

No change in position expected

The Chinese government seems disinclined to change its positions on the issue.

President Hu Jintao, in a Feb. 19 speech to leaders of Chinese provinces, spoke of intensifying Beijing's management and control of the Internet in his country.

He notably specified the need to “increase the government’s level of control over the virtual society and to perfect mechanisms for channeling online public opinion.”

A Beijing-based netizen predicted that the government would limit free access to foreign websites and make it difficult for Internet users to chat with foreigners.

Since the call for “Jasmine protests” began in mid-February, Chinese authorities have allegedly tampered with the search functions of, said the lady, who only gave her surname Wu.

Cyber technology expert Su Ke said the police currently enforce "intermittent blocking on"

“They do this for two purposes.” he continued, “First, let you feel that Google cannot provide stable online service, and thus you have to turn to domestic searching engines, which filter sensitive words thoroughly."

“Second, they might increase the time span of blocking gradually, and finally disable Google completely.”

'Harsh repression'

On Vietnam, Reporters Without Borders said that crackdowns tend to intensify before each Congress of the ruling Communist party and then relax somewhat.

"This time, repression was particularly harsh and the latest legal measures taken by the government bode ill for the future," Reporters Without Borders said.

"The Communist Party seems to be pursuing a policy of economic openness while maintaining an iron grip on the country’s political and social life."

The other countries cited in the Enemies of the Internet list were Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, and Turkmenistan.

Egypt and Tunisia were taken off the annual online censorship blacklist following their recent revolutions.

The ousting of Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak "is a chance to entrench greater freedom of expression, especially online," the report said.

Tunisia meanwhile "is awakening to Internet freedom after being one of the world's most harshly censored under the rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was overthrown in January," it said.

Tunisia and Egypt moved onto a secondary watch-list which also includes Asian nations South Korea, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

Reporters Without Borders cited measures to police web content in these countries that it says threaten online freedom and access.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.





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