Amnesty International says in a report published today (Wed 28 January 2004) that since November 2002 there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people arrested and imprisoned for expressing their opinions online or for downloading information from the internet in China.
By January 2004, 54 people had been detained or imprisoned for these internet-related activities, a 60 per cent increase in just over a year. In addition an unknown number of people remain in detention for disseminating information about the spread of SARS over the internet.
The report also cites companies including Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Nortel Networks, Websense and Sun Microsystems, which have reportedly provided technology which has been used to censor and control the use of the Internet in China. Amnesty International is concerned that by selling such technology the companies did not give adequate consideration to the human rights implications of their investments.
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said: "All those detained for expressing their peaceful opinions online are prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally.”
"We also urge all companies which have provided technology which might support this kind of surveillance and harassment to use their influence with the Chinese authorities. They should ask the Chinese government to permit freedom of expression and to release all those detained for internet-related offences in violation of their fundamental human rights."
Those detained in China include students, political dissidents, Falun Gong practitioners, workers, writers, lawyers, teachers, civil servants, former police officers, engineers, and businessmen. They have been accused of various 'offences' including signing online petitions, calling for reform and an end to corruption, planning to set up a pro-democracy party, publishing 'rumours about SARS', communicating with groups abroad, opposing the persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and calling for a review of the 1989 crackdown on the pro-democracy protestors. Most have been charged with 'subversion' or 'endangering state security', criminal charges which have resulted in prison sentences of between two and 12 years.
Former academic He Depu was prosecuted for "incitement to subvert state power" in October 2003 and sentenced to eight years imprisonment after he published pro-democracy articles on the internet. He has reportedly been ill-treated in prison and is in poor health.
Huang Qi, a computer engineer from Sichuan who set up his own website, was detained on 3 June 2000 after several Chinese dissidents abroad posted articles on his website on the eve of the eleventh anniversary of the crackdown against the 1989 pro-democracy protests. Three years after his arrest he was sentenced to five years' imprisonment after an unfair trial. He has reportedly been badly beaten by prison guards and is now in poor health suffering from regular headaches.
China has extensive internet censorship and over the past year there has been a growing trend towards assigning greater responsibilities for surveillance and monitoring to a variety of companies in China such as internet cafes, Information Service Providers (ISPs) and other enterprises. Nevertheless internet activism appears to be growing as fast as the controls are tightened. During 2003 there have been signs of internet users acting in solidarity with one another, in particular by expressing support for each other online. Such expressions of solidarity have proved dangerous as a growing number of people have been detained on the basis of such postings.
Internet access has expanded considerably in China over the past year. According to official statistics the number of internet users had risen to 79.5 million by December 2003 from 59.1 million users in December 2002, an increase of 34.5 per cent. This has presented the authorities with greater challenges in their attempts to censor and control the online activities of Internet users.
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