Site Denies Overseas Access

A website for citizen journalists in China is under attack from unknown assailants.

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china-internet-305.jpg A man surfs the Internet in Beijing, June 15, 2009.

Visitors to, an online forum for China’s citizen journalists, have been unable to access the site from overseas for the past two weeks, according to its founder and manager.

Ma Hei said Monday that the “site cannot be opened from Hong Kong, the United States, or Japan,” though it is still available within China.

The site, also known as First Lead Website, is the first privately funded media information provider in China, specializing in compiling news items from other media outlets, as well as posting original news leads.

But the site has denied access to overseas browsers recently.

Originally named “China Editor and Reporter Website,” Ma created the site and hosted it on a server based in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in June 2007.

“Our site was once shut down by authorities for violating an Internet regulation published in 2005. In 2008 we changed it to the current name and allowed all journalists and cyber-reporters to register as members. Upon registration, they can issue their own news on the site,” he said.

According to Ma, there are presently more than 10,000 media professionals registered as members of the site.

Post-Liu controls

An editor surnamed Xiao, based in China’s southern Hunan province, said authorities had apparently tightened restrictions on First Lead since Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize in October.

“Recently, the control is tighter than before with a focus on political news. Since Liu Xiaobo won the prize, Chinese authorities are very sensitive to this [material],” Xiao said.

But Ma insists that his website’s content is “supplementary” to the official media.

“We never work unlawfully, having just exposed some corruption and graft cases,” he said.

Ma believes that blocking overseas access is part of a government effort to prevent a negative image of China from reaching residents of foreign countries.

“It is possible that this plot has been designed to deter access to negative information about China, targeting Internet users in Hong Kong, Japan, and the U.S.,” Ma said.

“However, they have also been blocking [some] information in China. For example, I recently ran a story, a so-called negative news item, on my site. Later I found it couldn’t be opened from Amoy city in Fujian province, where the news was broken,” he said.

Hubei-based cyber-writer Liu Yiming agreed, adding that “it is very possible that the Internet service provider deleted the news items they didn’t like, to prevent them from leaving China.”

Arbitrary deletion

Ma said he has been unable to protect his online articles from being arbitrarily deleted by his Internet service provider.

“Their technical power far surpasses ours … Those hackers have complete control over our site, deleting posts at any time they want,” he said.

“At times I have received weird phone calls requesting me to delete a certain article. In the case of my refusal, the caller would keep silent for a moment before hanging up. Then several days later I would find that the article had disappeared.”

Ma said he had no idea who might be targeting his website.

“I am not sure if other websites have experienced the same thing, but I have encountered the same situation several times,” he said.

In response to the hacking attacks and unauthorized deleting of posts, Ma once issued a statement on the website advising the perpetrators that they were committing criminal acts according to Chinese law.

He never received a response and the violations continued.

Original report by Qiao Long. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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