China Shutters 'Illegal' Websites, Vows to Step up Real-Name Registration

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A Chinese netizen uses Weibo, the Twitter-like microblogging service of Sina, in a rural village in southwest China's Guizhou province, Dec. 15, 2012.

China's Internet regulator is to step up its enforcement of real-name registration rules across all Internet services by next year, after shuttering 50 websites at chat accounts for posting "illegal" content, it said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The Cyberspace Administration ... closed a number of websites, channels, and WeChat accounts," the administration said in a statement on its website.

A total 24 websites, nine channels, or columns, and 17 public WeChat accounts were shuttered because they had "published fake news or information relating to gambling and fraud, posted pornographic content, and issued unauthorized news items without being qualified to do so," it said.

Two anti-corruption websites set up by petitioners with complaints over official wrongdoing, and, were among those closed down.

The public WeChat accounts of the party's anti-graft body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), set up to receive tip-offs from the public, were also shut down, the statement said.

"The [administration] will this year further strengthen law enforcement and publish a regular blacklist of illegal sites, to safeguard the rights and interests of Internet users, and to maintain lawful Internet information and communication," Cyberspace Administration spokesman Jiang Jun said in the statement.

He added: "We welcome enthusiastic tip-offs from all sectors of society and the general public," he said.

Real-name registration

The administration said it would also strengthen its regulation of social media by forcing people to register for Twitter-like microblog accounts and smartphone chat apps with their real names.

Under the scheme, which the ruling Chinese Communist Party has been trying to enforce with varying degrees of success for several years, users may choose a nickname that is publicly visible, but must leave full personal details with the service provider to do so.

Online free speech advocate Wu Bin, known by his nickname Xiucai Jianghu, said the move was another attack on freedom of speech and personal privacy.

"The idea that the real-name system will contribute to a healthy Internet is just a high-sounding excuse to attack freedom of expression and personal privacy," Wu said.

"Controls on freedom of speech are getting tighter and tighter, and I have direct experience of this situation, because they shut down my account on Sina Weibo every few days," he said.

"They say there will be no corner to hide in as they control everyone and everything," Wu said. "Things are going to get worse and worse."

But he added: "They are controlling public speech for the time being, but in the long term they are only hastening their own demise."

Rights activist Zhang Jianping said the authorities often use pornographic content as a pretext to launch crackdowns on online content.

"This is very scary, because I also noticed that some of the content dealt with military topics, as well as some so-called political views," Zhang said.

'50-cent Army'

Meanwhile, Yuan Gulai, one of China's "Big-V" class of prominent tweeters, said he had seen a huge increase in pro-government commentators to his posts.

He said he assumes they are part of the "50-cent army," commentators who are recruited and paid to toe the party line on social media and news sites.

"There are huge numbers of 50-centers ... and I can't work out where they have all come from," Yuan said.

"I know that they have been stepping up their enforcement of the real-name system lately, or perhaps their attacks on so-called dissidents are getting stronger and stronger?"

He said he was against real-name registration, however.

"From a legal point of view, the real-name system violates all sorts of rights," Yuan said. "If everyone has to know who I am when I express an opinion online, then it's very clearly going to be a deterrent."

"These types of controls are getting stricter and stricter," he said.

Further debate

The statement prompted further debate on Chinese social media sites.

"So they have to damage the Internet by forcing people to use their real names, but yet officials don't ever have to put their real names to their own property?" wrote one commentator.

A second commentator said the real-name system would render individuals vulnerable to the leakage of their personal details.

"There will be more chance of receiving fraudulent phone calls; we should resist this very strongly," the user wrote.

A third user added: "How can we be sure we won't be treated as speech criminals, and hit with charges of 'picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,' or 'incitement to subvert state power'?"

"I am strongly against this."

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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