HONG KONG—Chinese netizens have hit out at a new raft of proposed controls which will further concentrate control of the Internet in the hands of government-approved companies and agencies, saying they take away the right of ordinary citizens to make full use of the Internet.
In an open letter to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a group of Chinese Webmasters, criticized new guidelines aimed at managing domain name registration.
"Their method, to forbid individuals from registering domain names, is in effect a stripping away of the right of citizens to access social and public resources," said the group, known as the Chinese Web Masters' Rights Defender Alliance.
Liu Feiyue, the head of a non-government civil rights group based in the central province of Hubei, said he agreed with the letter.
"Recently the Chinese Communist Party authorities have rolled out a lot of measures that are intended to suppress and control the use of the Internet," Liu said.
"These include a requirement that anyone wishing to register a top-level Chinese-language domain has to apply to a government bureau and produce a whole series of documents. In reality, this rule has taken away the right of Chinese citizens to set up their own Web sites."
"In other words, only companies and government agencies will be able to do so in future. Ordinary citizens will no longer have the right to do so."
Jiangsu-based rights activist Zhang Jianping said the authorities had come back with even more stringent controls following the withdrawal of the Web censorship software Green Dam, earlier in the year, making it much harder to view overseas news Web sites already.
"Any Web sites containing information that makes the government uneasy, that is inaccurate, or perhaps that tells the truth a little too plainly...for example those foreign news media with correspondents in Beijing, can only be seen if you use a Web site that gets around the Great Firewall."
Under the new rules, foreign Web sites wishing to be visible in China will also have to undergo the same procedure, or be cut off from view by the country's 360 million netizens, as they would be forced to go through domains under the control of the Chinese government.
Call for greater freedom
Meanwhile, as the authorities deliberated over a verdict in the subversion of pro-democracy activist and Charter 08 author Liu Xiaobo, activists outside the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court and online, on microblogging service Twitter, displayed yellow ribbons in a call for Liu's release.
"They have tied the ribbons along the roadside, and they are all through the park," said Beijing-based petitioner Wang Guilan, who visited the scene outside the court buildings."
"People are showing a lot of courage this time," she said. "They are flocking to the courts, shouting 'We want human rights, we want freedom'."
Microblogging, or Twitter-like, services, were described by a recent official report into Chinese Internet use patterns, as the main carrier of public opinion.
"Micro-blogging has successfully broken certain information filtering mechanisms, and publishes a large quantity of first-hand information before traditional media and government news publishing," the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said in a "Blue Paper" report released earlier this week.
"It has become the most powerful public opinion carrier."
According to China's Online Public Opinion Monitoring and measuring Department of the People's Daily online edition, 23 out of 77 key news stories during 2009 were broken by netizens.
Domain names, Web sites targeted
As part of an apparent bid to control the entire China-based Internet from the top-down, through the top-level country domain, CNNIC announced last week that private individuals would no longer be allowed to register domain names under China's ".cn" top-level domain.
In addition, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said it planned to set up a blacklist to prevent the owners of domain names found to be in violation of restrictions on content from applying for additional domain names.
According to Chinese media, the MIIT proposals effectively set up a "whitelist" of sites that are accessible to Chinese Web users, with any overseas-based Web site cut off from Chinese users by default, unless they file the correct paperwork with relevant authorities.
The Beijing News pointed out the possible repercussions of the measures in a recent Chinese-language report.
"It will be regrettable if law-abiding overseas websites, part of the world-linking Internet, are inaccessible because they have not filed with MIIT," the paper said, in an excerpt translated by the Beijing-based media blog Danwei.
Many of China’s nearly 360 million netizens are disgruntled at the increasing failure of Internet circumvention tools to get around the sophisticated set of blocks and censorship filters known as the “Great Firewall.”
Chinese netizens and overseas technology experts say the authorities are now successfully undermining key software used to get around the Great Firewall, such as U.S.-based software developer Andrew Lewman’s Tor “tunneling” software and U.S.-based Dynamic Internet Technology’s Freegate software.
Netizens have also reported problems using Chinese versions of the micro-blogging service, Twitter.
Twitter equivalents Fanfou, Jiwai, and Digu were recently shut down, forcing many Internet users to migrate to Twitter, bloggers said.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Gao Shan, and in Cantonese by Lee King. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.