Fears for China's Web Freedom

Some say controls over China's Internet look set to get even tighter, as authorities arrest a prominent Nanjing blogger.

goquan-blog-305.jpg Screenshot of Guo Quan’s blog on Sina.com, a major Chinese search engine, showing 10,911 visits but no content available.
Graphic: RFA

HONG KONGWriters in China said they feared a long hard road before real freedom of expression emerges in China, as authorities in the eastern province of Jiangsu formally arrested a prominent blogger who called for democratic change.

Paris-based media freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the arrest of blogger Guo Quan at his home in the eastern city of Nanjing.

Guo, who is currently being held in a Nanjing police station on a charge of "subversion of state power," also had his home searched and his computer confiscated.

I am optimistic on the whole about freedom of expression in China, but I think it's going to be a long hard road of repression and struggle before we get there."

Yu Jie

"What the authorities regard as ‘too radical’ is open letters to the government calling for democratic change," RSF said in a statement on its Web site.

Cyber-dissidents behind bars

"We unfortunately fear that Guo could be jailed for a long time, like the 49 other cyber-dissidents currently held in China," the group said.

Beijing-based writer Yu Jie said that as China's civil society developed, an increasing number of people were going to start demanding greater freedom of expression.

"The Chinese Internet has developed very rapidly in recent years, and now has the biggest number of users in the world," Yu said.

"However, a very clear corollary of that fast growth has been the continuing tight control exerted by the Chinese authorities on the mainstream media. So this means the Web is an extremely important source for free information for Chinese people."

Writer Ling Cangzhou agreed: "It is normal for the authorities to close down Web sites. While it's true that we have the freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution, how are we going to enforce it?"

He called on people who cared about freedom of speech to pay more attention to cases where it is suppressed.

Existing freedom 'may shrink'

"The world economic climate isn't very good right now, and my feeling is that the space for freedom of expression will also shrink a bit too," he said.

Yu Jie said much of the problem lay with the secretive style of the ruling Communist Party. "Even though we have a party that rules legitimately, it behaves like a member of the underworld with the secrecy of its methods," Yu said.

"I am optimistic on the whole about freedom of expression in China, but I think it's going to be a long hard road of repression and struggle before we get there."

Previously detained on May 18, Guo reported after being held for 10 days: "The authorities... tried to extract information from me. As I refused to name the dissidents I know, they kept me in custody for longer," he wrote on his blog at the time.

Guo was a founding member of the pro-democracy Chinese New People's Party at the end of last year. He also set up a network to help victims of the devastating May 12 earthquake in southwest China's Sichuan province.

Under house arrest since February after calling for the creation of a Chinese Netizen Party to combat online censorship, Guo also announced Feb. 4 that he intended to sue Google for ensuringat the Chinese government’s request after he created the Chinese New People’s Partythat searches for his name on its Chinese-language search engine (http://www.google.cn) yielded no results.

Guo has been posting open letters on his blog calling for pro-democracy reforms ever since he was fired from his post as philosophy professor at Nanjing University.

Original reporting in Mandarin by He Ping. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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