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Internet, dissidents under watch for China's National Day

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Sept 30, 2009
Internet users in China have found more and more online roadblocks and dissidents have reported increased surveillance as the authorities nervously prepare to celebrate 60 years of communist rule.

China regularly cracks down on online activity and activists ahead of sensitive events, and this year's National Day on Thursday is no exception as the government plans to showcase its military might in a huge parade.

Social websites such as Facebook and Twitter that were blocked after deadly riots in Xinjiang in July, and sensitive sites including Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International were inaccessible in China Wednesday.

Some web users have seen their free proxy services, which allowed them to access sites blocked by government censors, wiped out in the run-up to October 1 -- a move which one analyst said was likely carried out by the government.

"They (authorities) have upgraded the technology to block these and have been trying to block any free proxy and VPN (another online service) over the past week," Michael Anti, a China-based media analyst, told AFP.

"It's because of the 60th anniversary, which is a very critical task for them," said Anti, adding that those who paid for proxies and VPNs had not been affected.

China, which has the world's largest online population of at least 338 million users, regularly blocks Internet content it deems unhealthy.

Such content includes information critical of the government, under a censorship system dubbed the "Great Firewall of China".

"I think the same people behind the Great Firewall are behind this -- that is to say the government," Anti said.

News assistants working for foreign news organisations have also been targeted by email viruses, according to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China.

Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said it was not clear who was behind the cyberattacks on journalists, but said he only saw a few options.

"There are two plausible sources that express hostility towards foreign press, and that's the Chinese government and nationalist groups."

In the run-up to the sensitive anniversary, seen here as an opportunity to tout the country's successes, some leading dissidents have also come under increased scrutiny.

Jiang Qisheng, jailed for subversion in 1999 after he tried to organise commemorations on the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen protest crackdown, said police were parked outside his house in eastern Jiangsu province.

Jiang, who lives in Beijing, said he went to his hometown in Jiangsu of his own free will but was escorted to his train by police, who have been watching him closely since before the June 4 anniversary of the crackdown.

In southwestern Guizhou province, prominent rights activist Chen Xi told AFP plainclothes officers had been posted in front of his home 10 days ago, and were there around the clock.

"I asked them and they said that after the eight days' holiday for the 60th anniversary, they would stop their monitoring work," he said.

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'Paranoid' China ramps up firewall on anniversary: RSF
Paris (AFP) Sept 29, 2009
Press rights group Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday that a "paranoid" China had blocked tens of thousands of websites ahead of the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic. The Paris-based group said that Chinese authorities had targeted Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and other ways that residents, including foreign reporters, used to circumvent controls on the Internet. The grou ... read more

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