BEIJING – An international media rights group called on China to loosen controls on news and personal expression on the Internet, saying the country's system of censorship is an insult to the spirit of online freedom.
"With less than a year to go to the Olympic Games, there is an urgent need for the government to stop blocking thousands of Web sites, censoring online news and imprisoning Internet users," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement Wednesday.
Though the communist government promotes Internet use, it also has set up an extensive surveillance and filtering system to prevent Chinese citizens from accessing material considered obscene or politically subversive.
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The Paris-based group also released an investigative report on China's Internet controls. It was written by a Chinese technician who wished to remain anonymous.
The technician lists 12 examples of government directives to Web portals from May and June of last year ordering them to purge specific news items or topics from their sites or telling them to post government-approved content.
One alleged order from May 19, 2006, tells portals not to allow any mention of the Chinese-language film "Summer Palace," then being shown at the Cannes Film Festival.
It had been banned in China because it included references to the 1989 military crackdown on democracy protesters.
"Do not post any article on this subject in discussion forums, blogs or comments," the report quotes the order as saying. It was allegedly sent by Fan Tao, deputy director of the Beijing Internet Information Administrative Bureau.
An official with the bureau, Li Meng, said Fan was aware of the report but would not comment further.
The report also said that dozens of "privately owned Web sites based in Beijing receive this kind of order up to five times a day."
It adds that sites that don't comply are criticized, fined, forced to fire the employee responsible for the error, or closed down. A point system is also used to keep track of compliance. Companies that rack up a certain number of demerits run the risk of losing their business license, it said.
"This system of censorship is unparalleled anywhere in the world and is an insult to the spirit of online freedom," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.