HONG KONG—Three law professors from one of China's most prestigious universities have written an open letter to the country's leaders to protest the closure of an influential and politically freewheeling Web site.
"Without any warning or announcement from the relevant authorities, the Yitahutu Web site beloved of teachers and students has been shut down," the letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao posted on the overseas Chinese Boxun news Web site said.
"We currently have no legal or open platform from which to discover which authority ordered this, for what reason, and according to what laws," said the letter, which was signed by three Beijing University law professors, Yu Jiang, Xu Zhiyong, and Teng Biao.
"The closure of the Yitahutu site has not only harmed the site and those who use it. It makes a mockery of China's attempts to become a society ruled by law."
The Yitahutu site was most popular among staff and faculty at Beijing University, but it's listed in the Chinese version of Wikipedia as one of the most influential discussion boards in China.
It was democratic in style, allowing all users to begin discussion threads and to vote on which thread should be displayed on the front page.
But its lack of an editorial team made it hard to control through political pressure.
On Sept. 13, ahead of a meeting of top Communist Party leaders in the capital, the Beijing Communications Administration issued a directive ordering the site to close—and prompting an outcry among staff and students.
"I am very angry and very opposed to their actions in closing the Yitahutu Web site," former Yitahutu registered user Wang Kejian told RFA's Mandarin service. "We have managed to gain a little space on the Internet for freedom of expression, and this shouldn't be encroached upon."
Law professor Teng said while he and his colleagues had collected several dozen signatures for the letter, there was nowhere public for it to be displayed.
"None of the Web sites will allow discussion of the Yitahutu incident. So the influence of this open letter will be very small," Teng told RFA.
"Many people won't be able to see it. One Web site has got into a lot of trouble for allowing us to post the letter and calls for signatures," he said.
Many said they were outraged at the lack of legal process in the site's closure and demanded a explanation.
"They have used surprise tactics, back-door methods to close a lot of sites. But with one as influential as Yitahutu, the least they can do is give an explanation, say under which laws the action was taken, take it through a formal process, not just creep up and close it like that," Wang said.
Teng said his main hope was to bring the attention of as many people as possible to the Web site's closure.
On the Web:
Beijing Communications Administration
Article by U.S.-based Chinese dissident Xiao Qiang on Yitahutu
Chinese Wikipedia entry on Yitahutu’s BBS