U.S. commission documents major crackdown on Internet and press freedom in China

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), created by Congress in October 2000 with the legislative mandate to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China, submitted its annual report to the President and the Congress, in which it documents a major crackdown by the Chinese authorities on the Internet and press freedom.
“In the areas of human rights and rule of law this year, China’s leaders have grown more aggressive in their violation of rights, disregarding the very laws and international standards that they claim to uphold,” said Congressman Chris Smith (NJ–04), Chairman of the Commission, and Senator Sherrod Brown (OH), Cochairman of the Commission.
The report found that Chinese officials ignored the law or used the law as a tool to repress human rights, stifle dissent, and unfairly subsidize Chinese industry.
The report notes that the Chinese government continued to deny Chinese citizens basic freedoms guaranteed under both Chinese law and international human rights standards, including freedom of expression. The report cited the jailing of Chinese citizens who criticized the government and heavy censorship of the Internet and press.
“It is fitting that this report comes out on the one year anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo. Liu is languishing in a jail in China, serving an 11-year sentence for peacefully exercising his right to free expression by writing about and advocating for democratic reforms,” Brown said.
“Liu’s case, and the cases of numerous other political prisoners cited in the report, including missing activist Gao Zhisheng, illustrate in stark terms what happens to Chinese citizens who dare to speak out against injustice and corruption,” Smith added.
“This year saw one of the harshest crackdowns on dissidents in recent memory. Chinese officials simply ignored their own laws and international standards to round up, disappear, and detain numerous human rights activists, artists, and lawyers,” said Smith. “Chinese officials also continued to implement its reprehensible population control policy through the use of violence, forced abortion, and sterilization in flagrant disregard for human rights and the rule of law. China’s implementation of their one-child-per-couple policy remains one of the most brutal and barbaric attacks against women and children—ever,” Smith added.
The Commission consists of nine Senators, nine Members of the House of Representatives, and five senior Administration officials appointed by the President. In addition to its annual reports, the Commission maintains an extensive database of political prisoners in China, many of whom are cited in its reports. Political prisoners cited in the 2011 report include Catholic bishop Su Zhimin, labor activist Zhao Dongmin, democracy activist Liu Xianbin, Uyghur journalist Memetjan Abdulla, former Tibetan monk Jigme Gyatso, and Mongol activist Hada.
Link to Statement of CECC Chairman Christopher Smith and Cochairman Sherrod Brown on the Release of the 2011 Annual Report.
The CECC annual report cites numerous Voice of America news reports about violations of human rights and press freedom in China. It also documents exentively the Chinese government’s efforts to censor the Internet. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the U.S. Federal agency which oversees the Voice of America and other U.S. government-funded news broadcasts for audiences abroad, wanted to terminate all VOA radio and television programs to China as of October 1 and rely instead entirely on the Internet to deliver VOA news and information. The plan met with strong criticism from human rights organizations and media freedom activists in China and in the U.S. The BBG plan was subsequently blocked by Congress at least for the time being.
We are reposting below the part of the report dealing with the Internet in China.
Internet and Other Electronic Media
blocking and filtering political content
In China, officials are not transparent about the content
that is blocked or why it is blocked,\12\ and they continue to
arbitrarily block content for purposes impermissible under
international standards. Chinese authorities expressed anger
over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned
prominent intellectual and reform advocate Liu Xiaobo in
October 2010, for example, and blocked online searches for
“Nobel Peace Prize” or “Liu Xiaobo” and text messages
containing Liu’s name.\13\ In January 2011, authorities
reportedly banned hundreds of words, including “democracy”
and “human rights” from cell phone text messages.\14\
Politically sensitive Web sites continued to be blocked,
including a popular Tibetan culture site, an anticorruption
site, and a public health advocacy Web site.\15\ Officials also
continued to block information in a disproportionate manner
that did not appear necessary to achieve a legitimate aim. For
example, access to overseas sites such as Facebook, Twitter,
and YouTube remained completely blocked.\16\ In late May 2011,
officials reportedly imposed broad blocks on Internet and cell
phone access in the northern part of the Inner Mongolia
Autonomous Region following a series of mostly peaceful
protests sparked by the death of a herder.\17\
Officials continued to detain and harass Chinese citizens
who sought to share politically sensitive content online. In
each case, the activity appeared to pose little threat to
national security or public order, or the punishment appeared
disproportionate to the alleged offense. For example, rights
defender Cheng Jianping (who uses the pseudonym Wang Yi) sent a
satirical Twitter message urging anti-Japanese protesters to
converge on the Japanese pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 World
Expo.\18\ The Xinxiang City Reeducation Through Labor (RTL)
Committee in Henan province ordered her to serve one year of
RTL in November 2010.\19\ In April 2011, authorities in
Chongqing municipality ordered a citizen to serve RTL for
posting scatological humor in a critique of the policies of
Chongqing’s Party Secretary Bo Xilai.\20\ In November 2010,
Shanghai police interrogated the writer Xia Shang after he
offered to buy flowers for victims of a Shanghai fire in an
Internet post.\21\ Officials treated citizens who sought to
share information about the calls for domestic “Jasmine”
protests, which appeared to be a non-violent call for political
reform, as threats to the state. The detained included Hua
Chunhui, an insurance company manager and activist who
reportedly sent Twitter messages about the “Jasmine” protest
calls and was charged with endangering state security.\22\ In
April 2011, officials in Jiangsu province ordered Hua to serve
18 months of RTL.\23\ In February, police in Harbin city,
Heilongjiang province, detained Internet blogger Liang Haiyi on
suspicion of the crime of “subversion of state power.” Police
accused her of posting information about the “Jasmine”
protests on the popular QQ microblogging site.\24\
The types of content prohibited online in China are not
clearly defined in law, and thus conflict with international
standards. Chinese Internet regulations contain vague and broad
prohibitions on content that, for example, “harms the honor or
interests of the nation,” “spreads rumors,” or “disrupts
national policies on religion.” \25\ Chinese law does not
define these concepts.\26\ In China, the government places the
burden on Internet service and content providers to monitor and
remove content based on these vague standards and to maintain
records of such activity and report it to the government.\27\
In February 2011, a manager at Renren, a major social media
company similar to Facebook, said that the company censored
sensitive content using a staff of 500 and a keyword filtering
system, and that the “CEO would have to have a coffee with the
government” for any misstep.\28\ The Party’s influence over
the technology sector was evident in June, when more than 60
representatives from top Chinese Internet companies, including
Sina and Baidu, gathered in Shanghai to commemorate the Party’s
90th anniversary.\29\ Also in June, Sina announced plans to
launch an English microblog site in the United States, which
could have the effect of exporting Chinese censorship to
overseas markets.\30\ The U.S.-based company Google, which has
operations in China and which in early 2010 challenged Chinese
censorship requirements, reportedly continued to face problems
in China. In March 2011, Google reported that the Chinese
government appeared to be interfering with its email service in
China and making it look like a technical problem.\31\ The
government denied the charge.\32\ In June, Google reported that
an attack on hundreds of personal Gmail accounts, including
those of Chinese political activists, senior U.S. officials,
and journalists, had originated from China.\33\ The Party’s
official newspaper rejected the allegation.\34\
prior restraints on the internet
In addition to blocking certain types of content, officials
in China control the Internet by determining who gains access
to the medium through numerous licensing requirements (i.e.,
prior restraints). All Web sites hosted in China are required
either to be licensed by or registered with the government, and
sites providing news content or audio and video services
require an additional license or registration.\35\ In a 2011
report, the UN Special Rapporteur for Free Expression said that
licensing requirements “cannot be justified in the case of the
Internet, as it can accommodate an unlimited number of points
of entry and an essentially unlimited number of users.” \36\
In October 2010, Chinese media reported that as of the end of
September 2010 Chinese Internet companies had inspected nearly
1.8 million Web sites and shut down 3,000 for failing to
register.\37\ In July 2011, the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences (CASS) reported a 41 percent decrease in the number of
Web sites in China in 2010 to 1.91 million sites.\38\ The
report’s editor cited government campaigns targeting
“obscene” sites and the economic downturn as reasons for the
decrease, and said in recent years few sites had been closed
“purely to control speech.” \39\ Other observers in China,
however, attributed the decrease to the chilling effect of
expanding government control.\40\ The CASS study also claimed
that the United States was using new media, including the Voice
of America, to threaten China’s “ideological safety.” \41\
expanding overall access, while maintaining control
The government has pledged to expand access to the Internet
and cell phones.\42\ Official statistics indicate that by the
end of 2010, there were 457 million Internet users in China,
including a growing number in rural areas, and by April 2011,
900 million mobile phone accounts.\43\ Officials have sought to
expand the Internet to promote economic development and
government propaganda.\44\ Still, international observers and
Western media continue to note the difficulties officials have
in controlling this emerging and vibrant space for expression,
including expression of criticism of the government and
discussion of some politically sensitive topics.\45\ In July
2011, for example, users on China’s two most popular Twitter-
type microblogs posted some 26 million messages after a high-
speed train crash near Wenzhou city, Zhejiang province.\46\
Officials reportedly censored some messages, but a large number
of messages either were allowed through or appeared too quickly
for censors to react.\47\
Official statements and actions continue to emphasize
control rather than freedom on the Internet. The importance of
maintaining official control was reinforced in May 2011, when
officials established a State Internet Information Office to
“supervise and urge relevant departments to strengthen their
supervision of online content, and to be responsible for
approvals for online news services and other related services
as well as day-to-day oversight.” \48\ In China, the Communist
Party exercises tight control over government agencies that
manage the media and Internet.\49\ This relationship gives the
Party discretion to use government restrictions not just for
the purpose of regulating pornography, intellectual property
violations, and protecting minors–permissible purposes under
international standards–but also to serve the Party’s
interests. In February 2011, President Hu Jintao called for
“strengthening the mechanisms for guiding online public
opinion.” \50\ The practice of authorities paying Chinese
citizens to post comments favorable to the government and Party
on the Internet reportedly continued.\51\ In February,
Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou
Yongkang said authorities should “coalesce a comprehensive”
structure for managing the Internet “under the Party
committee’s unified leadership.” \52\ In Beijing, authorities
reportedly issued regulations requiring bars, hotels, and other
public places to purchase and install costly software to
monitor the identities of people using wireless services at
those locations.\53\
Link to the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s 2011 Annual Report on human rights and rule of law developments in China.