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Friday, March 19, 2004

Chinese authorities squashing blogs

by Christopher Bodeen at Salon.com
(subscription only, but you can get a free one-day pass)

March 19, 2004 | SHANGHAI, China (AP) -- China has shut down a pair of Web sites that were free-ranging user forums known as blogs, stepping up government attempts to control political discussion on the Internet, a media watchdog group reported even as one site reappeared Friday.

However, a note Friday on the page of the second site, blogbus.com, said it was still closed due to content problems.

"Because individual postings contained forbidden content, the server is temporarily down. We will seek a speedy resolution to the problem,'' said a message on the site's Web page.

The other site, identified by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders as blogcn.com, said its page had shut down for "server upgrading'' but made no mention of any forced closure due the content. It appeared to be restored on Friday.

China has enthusiastically promoted use of the Internet for commercial applications, but battles to prevent it becoming a forum for criticism of the Communist Party. A special team of police monitors Web sites and chat rooms for sensitive content, and sites are told to censor themselves or face penalties.

In addition, at least 54 people have been jailed for posting essays or other content deemed subversive online. Rights groups say the arrests point to a worrying new abuse of the country's loosely defined subversion and state secrecy laws.

Blogs, online diaries in which users post their thoughts for others to read, have become hugely popular among China's roughly 80 million Internet users.

While some postings appear to be oblique criticisms of the government or calls to action against censorship, blogs haven't previously been noted as a source of anti-government activity.

Blogbus.com had hosted more than 15,000 individual blogs, according to Reporters Without Borders. It said the site was closed on March 11 for "allowing a letter to be posted that was critical of the government.'' No details were given and it didn't say what political factors allegedly prompted the closure of blogcn.com.

"After closing Web sites and discussion forums, the Chinese authorities are now targeting blogs, one of the last outlets for expression still open to Internet-users,'' the group said in a statement faxed to journalists.