Internet Blocking in Olympic China

Chinese Olympics herald a lull in internet censorship

26th March

Firewall Fireworks...

BBC website unblocked in China after 10 years

People in China are able to access English language stories on the BBC News website in full, after years of strict censorship by Beijing. The BBC News website has been blocked for almost a decade.

The Communist authorities often block news sites such as the BBC in a policy dubbed the "great firewall of China".

But BBC staff working in China now say they are able to access news stories that would have been blocked before.

However, the firewall remains in place for Chinese language services on the website and for any links in Chinese.

Beijing has never admitted to blocking access to BBC news stories - and there has been no official confirmation that the website has been unblocked.

Technology experts say such a development would not be possible without the approval of internet service providers - which are under strict supervision by Beijing.

Typically fewer than 100 people read BBC stories from Chinese computers - but on Tuesday that figure jumped to more than 16,000.

The Chinese authorities had promised to give foreign journalists more freedom in the run-up to this summer's Olympic Games. But analysts say that recent outbreaks of unrest in Tibet have made this promise more difficult for Beijing to uphold.


4th April

Update: Olympic Sport of Internet Blocking...

China promises unfiltered internet for foreign media at least

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed that international media will have access to uncensored internet during the 8-24 August sportsfest in Beijing and that TV transmission of the games will not be subject to a delay.

According to Reuters, the IOC's chief inspector said that, despite the Chinese regime's routine censorship of net content and penchant for delaying or censoring TV signals, this would not affect the 30,000-strong foreign media expected to cover the games.

Hein Verbruggen told a press conference concluding the committee's final inspection of the games: We were satisfied by the assurances we received across a number of areas - media service levels, including internet access ... and the live broadcast feed.


2nd May

Update: Olympic Filtering...

US senator suggests that Chinese will spy on Olympic internet usage

A US senator accused the Chinese government on Thursday of ordering US-owned hotels in China to install Internet filters that can spy on international visitors coming to see the summer Olympic games.

Senator Sam Brownback made the charge at a Capitol Hill news conference where he and other lawmakers denounced China's record of human rights abuses and urged President Bush not to attend the Olympic's opening ceremonies in Beijing.

This is wrong, it's against international conventions, it's certainly against the Olympic spirit, Brownback said. The Chinese government should remove that request and that order.

Brownback said he has seen the language of memos received by at least two US-owned hotels. He declined to name them, and said he obtained the information from two reliable but confidential sources in the hope that public pressure would persuade the Chinese government to back off the demand.

The filters could enable the government to monitor Web sites viewed by hotel guests and restrict Internet information coming in and out of China, Brownback said.

The senator called China the foremost enabler of human rights abuses around the world" and said the Chinese government is turning the summer games into an Olympics of oppression.


9th May

Update: Olympic Sport of Repression...

China assured of gold, internet blocked and athletes gagged

Officials from China's Technology Ministry took a somewhat odd opportunity to speak about its censorship plans during a press conference after the Olympic torch relay crossed Mount Everest. They said that while the government would be able to guarantee as much [access] as possible, there's no way that China would turn off the Great Firewall entirely during the Games.

China has always been very cautious when it comes to the Internet, Technology Minister Wan Gang said, according to Reuters. I've not got any clear information about which sites will be shut or screened. But to protect the youth there are controls on some unhealthy web sites.

Wan's statement comes just over a month after the International Olympic Committee reminded China of its obligations as an Olympic host city to allow the press to report as freely as they have in the past which usually includes full, unfettered access to the Internet. The IOC insisted to the government that the Internet be open at all times during Games time, and commission vice chairman Kevan Gosper appeared optimistic that China would comply.

The IOC may have little recourse on China's decision to maintain some degree of filtering. One option for the organization is to insist on a list of things that would be blocked, such as porn sites, to ensure that the international media has free access to all of the sites it needs. However, China's vague description of unhealthy web sites gives it plenty of wiggle room.

China defends its decision by pointing out that it's not the only country to filter the Internet. Every country limits access to some web sites. Even in developed countries not every site can be accessed, Wan said. It's true that some countries do restrict the free flow of information to a degree, but very few do it as strictly as China. And, China did agree to open up the Net as part of its agreement with the IOC.

See full article from Prachatai

Athletes who wave the Tibetan flag or wear traditional dress while at the Beijing Olympics, could find themselves sanctioned under Article 51 (3) of the Olympic Charter according to guidelines issued in April by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The penalties for such a "crime" however, remain unknown.

In keeping with the conduct of China, the current Olympic host country, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken it upon itself to quash even the slightest sign of political expression, said ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders: The free expression of athletes is being denounced and silenced before our very eyes.

Article 51 (3) of the Olympic Charter affirms that No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas." Perhaps due to growing international attention, National Olympic Committees (NOCs) recently asked the IOC to provide an interpretation of this Article. In a six-point letter sent to NOCs in April, the IOC outlined that The conduct of participants at all sites, areas and venues includes all actions, reactions, attitudes or manifestations of any kind by a person or group of persons, including but not limited to their look, external appearance, clothing, gestures, and written or oral statements.

ARTICLE 19 and RSF call on the International Olympic Committee to immediately amend or interpret Article 51 (3) of the Olympic Charter so that it is compatible with international human rights principles on freedom of expression stemming from ARTICLE 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right of Olympic athletes to openly comment on the situation of human rights in China or other countries must be upheld.


4th June

Update: Not So Welcoming...

China publishes restrictions on Olympic visitors

China is warning visitors to the Olympics they could be fined or jailed without trial if they breach rules on a range of offences including staging political protests.

A list of rules for tourists coming for the Beijing Games in the summer published outlines a long list of reasons why they may not be allowed into the country at all.

Those banned will include anyone suffering from infectious diseases such as tuberculosis or sexually transmitted diseases such as Aids, the mentally ill, prostitutes, and anyone with "subversive" intent.

Books, articles and computer files with content harmful to China's politics, cultures, morals and economy would also be banned, the rules say.

But it adds that those who break the law while in China could face standard penalties. Any illegal gatherings, parades and protests and refusal to comply are subject to administrative punishments or criminal prosecution, it says.

Administrative punishments are those that can be imposed by the police without referral to the courts, and as well as fines include detention in a re-education through labour facility for up to four years.

The authorities in Beijing have begun a tightening of controls on foreigners in the run-up to the Games, imposing new visa restrictions and regular checks on residence permits, and cancelling some concerts and festivals featuring foreign acts.


14th June

Update: Broadcasting Protests...

Broadcasters predictably having difficulties setting up in China

The BBC will show political protests if they occur during the Beijing Olympics, the corporation has said, even if the Games' organisers attempt to censor official footage.

The BBC, the only British broadcaster with access to stadiums this summer, says it cannot be expected to hide demonstrations if they happen at events where they have cameras.

Its decision, which it stresses will be applied "responsibly", will increase Beijing's nervousness as the Games approach.

The Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, BOCOG, has already had angry exchanges with the world's leading broadcasters who complain of delays over permits to bring their equipment into the country and to deploy them around the city.

Dave Gordon, head of major sports events for the BBC, told The Daily Telegraph that Beijing had become "more difficult" for broadcasters than the Moscow Games in 1980. He said international representatives had tried to get answers for two years on whether the Olympic broadcasting agency that provides the only feed of the actual events would show footage of protests if they occurred: They fudge the question. They won't commit to saying yes, they will cover it or no, they will not cover it. They put a lot of stress on the importance of covering the sport. I think we have to draw our own conclusions.

He added it was unthinkable that if its own cameras in the stadium picked up a protest it would not be shown: We have to cover the Olympics warts and all.

The difficulties in obtaining the necessary permits to operate for other broadcasters came to a head at a meeting in Beijing on May 29. According to minutes leaked to the Associated Press, even the representative of the International Olympic Committee described Beijing's demands as "unworkable".

Another delegate, representing Asian broadcasters, said Beijing was "suffocating the television coverage in the crazy pursuit of security".

Many broadcasters want to film live from well-known but politically sensitive locations such as Tiananmen Square. They have been told this will be allowed in principle, but complain that permission seems not to be forthcoming.

Update: Fixers

See full article from Reporters without Borders , 15th June 2008

The Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) has been insisting since January 2007 that the foreign media recruit professionals chosen by official intermediaries as translators. The latest rules want all Chinese working for the foreign media to be registered and suggest that the authorities should "select and name appropriate candidates" for the foreign media.

If foreign journalists want to propose their own candidates, they must provide an ID, a curriculum vitae, evidence of no criminal record and a medical certificate. And a contract must be signed between employer and employee.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China told Reporters Without Borders that hiring and registering assistants through government service agencies potentially increases bureaucracy, expense and oversight by the authorities. The FCCC hopes the foreign media will eventually be able to hire Chinese as journalists, photographers or cameramen, but for the time being that is not allowed.

Reporters Without Borders has also learned of a directive issued by the BOCOG media centre’s visa division telling journalists to submit precise information about coverage plans in China, including the places they want to visit and the people they want to interview, in order to obtain a J-2 visa, which is for media personnel who want to arrive before the 8 August start of the games. The BOCOG also requires a letter from an employer, which effectively eliminates freelancers.


16th June

Update: Read Only Bloggery...

China allows visitors to read blogs but not to post

Blogspot, Google's popular blogging platform is accessible again in China, judging from reports from Chengdu and Beijing.

Blogspot has been blocked and unblocked so many times in China that is barely worth mentioning: it usually works for a few weeks, and then gets blocked again. But this time seems to be different.

In the past, even when Blogspot was inaccessible in China, people using the platform could still post to their blogs even though they could not read the blogs without a proxy. Today it seems that Blogger, the part of Blogspot used for publishing blog entries, is blocked.

This may just be a technical glitch, but perhaps it is a rather subtle strategy of the Net Nanny:

With Blogspot available, most Olympic visitors are less likely to notice Internet censorship, but stopping Blogger will make it much harder for some athletes, journalists and other visitors to publish their thoughts online.


22nd June

Update: Olympic Firewall of China...

No let up in Chinas blocking of the internet

China has only continued to tighten censorship of the Internet as the Olympics draw near, not loosen up as expected.

That's the conclusion of activists who monitor the state of censorship in China. They say that a number of China-related that events, such as the unrest in Tibet and the recent earthquakes, have caused authorities to clamp down even further on what can be published online within the country, and what information can be accessed by citizens.

My observation is that during this year the Internet police became much more efficient in terms of surveillance of the Internet activities to suppress freedom of expression, Independent Chinese PEN Centre member Zhang Yu said: The suppression is getting much more severe, just in the recent months.

Journalist arrests and convictions may have gone down since 2004 but it's not because there's more freedom in China, Zhang said. Instead, China is cracking down on the use of Internet cafes for subversive purposes by requiring customers to show ID, for example. After signing up with an ID and possibly even having a photo taken, users will be able to log in with their unique ID numbers, which will allow the cafes to keep track of exactly who is using which machine at all times. From there, if the government identifies the IP address of an unruly user on the 'Net, it should easily be able to identify the user in question.

Zhang's observations come just over a month after China admitted that it doesn't plan to fully open the Internet during this summer's Olympic Games as was previously expected. The government said that it would attempt to offer as much access as possible to international journalists and bloggers (as dictated by the host city agreement signed with the International Olympic Committee), but that there was no way China would turn off the Great Firewall entirely.

Update: Said the Small Censor to the Big Censor

23rd June 2008

It is unacceptable for China to block Internet content, a European Commissioner has said calling the Internet a free and open medium.

We say for instance to the Chinese, very clearly so, that their blocking of certain Internet content is absolutely unacceptable, said Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Information Society and Media: So Europe speaks up in this sense, and is fighting for the freedom of speech and the freedom to receive the news.


6th July

Offsite: Olympic Sport of Heavyweight Gagging...

Not looking good for the internet at the Olympics

Beijing's Olympic Plan for the mainland China-based portion of the blogging and BBSing netosphere is starting to take shape.

While on one hand it's coming coated in talk of self-restraint and uses words like “professional” and “responsibility”, the wording in an official notice [zh] which appeared online this week and is being spread by webmasters of sites that stand to be affected suggests that the coming month will see a similar massive shutdown similar to the one we saw leading up to the seventeenth National People's Congress last year.

...Read full article


13th July

Update: German TV blocked from Great Wall...

German journalists call on China honour its Olympic promises

Germany's journalist union and the German chapter of Reporters Without Borders have called on China to stick to its own rules regarding press freedom during the Olympic Games, which are due to open in Beijing next month.

The head of the German Union of Journalists (DJV), Michael Konken said that Chinese officials should grant journalists free access to cover the games.

We call on the Chinese authorities to honor the rules for foreign journalists in China, he said, referring to directives issued by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in December 2006 that were meant to make it easier for reporters to work in the country during the Olympics.

The directives call for journalists to only need to get the permission of organizations or individuals they want to interview, but not state authorities. Konken said that officials had begun to prohibit interviews or threaten Chinese interview partners.

Konken welcomed an official Chinese apology for a botched live broadcast of German public broadcaster ZDF from the Great Wall. Officials had blocked the broadcast by holding their hands in front of the cameras.


21st September

Update: Olympic Sport of Backtracking...

China re-applies internet blocks after Olympic ease up

Reporters Without Borders discovered today that access to its main website has again been blocked within China. The site had been accessible since 1 August, a week before the start of the Olympic Games.

Our website was accessible for just over a month in China, the press freedom organisation said: The freedom allowed to Chinese Internet users for the Beijing Olympic Games, which the authorities had promised, was just an illusion. There is no letup in online censorship in China. We call for the restoration of access to our site and all the other news and information sites that are blocked in China.

The websites of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the BBC are still accessible although they continue to be “geoblocked” for Internet users in Tibet. The overseas Chinese news and human rights websites are also blocked, as is the site from which the censorship circumvention software TOR can be downloaded.


17th December

Handcuffs Restored...

China restores internet blocks on world news sites

Chinese government officials have defended their decision to block several foreign news websites, including the BBC, as the country moves away from its pledge for uncensored internet access during the Beijing Olympics.

The BBC, Voice of America, Hong Kong's Ming Pao News and Asiaweek have all had their websites blocked in China since early December. Restrictions had previously been lifted in August, when foreign journalists demanded full access during the Olympics.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said the Chinese government could not deny that it had issues with some sites: For instance, if a website refers to 'two Chinas' or refers to mainland China and Taiwan as two independent regions, we believe that violates China's anti-secession law, as well as other laws .

China has previously blocked several high-profile websites but has not acknowledged an official ban, preferring to show users an error message for those sites instead.

Access to the BBC's English-language site was briefly lifted in March, although the Chinese-language site remained blocked.


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