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Chinese Web Writer Arrested for Subversion

Chinese authorities arrested Chen Shaowen in Lianyuan in the Hunan Province this month on suspicion of “using the Internet to subvert state power” and “slandering the Chinese Communist Party,” according to a report in the official Hunan Daily.

Chen sent more than 40 essays and articles to foreign “reactionary Web sites … fabricating, distorting and exaggerating relevant facts, and vilifying the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist system,” the Hunan Daily quoted police officials as saying.

The Associated Press reported an unnamed security official in Lianyuan confirmed news of Chen’s arrest, but said the official would not provide further information. Officials at China’s Hunan provincial headquarters of the State Security Bureau also refused to provide details, the AP reported. Police officials told the national newspaper that Chen also viewed a number of “reactionary” — or unsanctioned — Web sites and had subscribed to five different “reactionary” foreign publications to learn to adapt to their viewpoints and writing style.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Chen’s arrest, calling it the government’s “latest move to rein in citizens’ use of the Internet.”

CPJ said Chen, age 40, wrote essays and articles about Chinese unemployment, social inequities, and problems within China’s legal system.

Chen’s arrest brings to 14 the number of journalists currently in prison for publishing or distributing information online, eleven of whom were charged with subversion, according to a letter published by CPJ.

The arrest comes amid the government’s recent tightening of media controls ahead of a pivotal Communist Party congress in November. At the meeting, President Jiang Zemin is widely expected to turn over party leadership to a new generation of leaders.

In August, the Chinese government blocked access to the U.S.-based Internet search engines Yahoo, Google, and Alta Vista. By mid-September, following massive attention from many media outlets, the block was partially lifted on Google and Yahoo.

“Yahoo and Google are generally available in China, while Alta Vista generally is not,” Benjamin Edelman, a researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, told the Online NewsHour.

According to Edelman’s study, these U.S.-based search engines had not been blocked until late August this year.

Many sites for human rights organizations, several online news sites — like CNN, the BBC, and the Australian Broadcasting Association — were still found to be inaccessible using a system developed by Edelman and other researchers at the Harvard Law School.

China’s Web surfers are frequently barred from viewing some Web sites operated by the U.S. government — notably those of U.S. courts — and Web sites for universities that offer “content that’s prohibited in China [such as] student groups that advocate democracy in China,” Edelman said.

The Chinese government still requires all domestic Internet sites to self-censor for any unsanctioned content.

Yahoo, which is now available in China, is one of the 130 major Internet portals that recently signed a voluntary pledge not to post information that would jeopardize state security and disrupt social stability in China, the BBC reported.

Since China opened its telecommunications networks to the World Wide Web in 1994, Internet use has skyrocketed. By mid-2002, an estimated 45 million citizens in China used the Internet, according to the official China Internet Network Information Center. As part of its efforts to modernize its economy, China’s government anticipates that at least five percent of its economic growth will come from communication and information technology by 2005, according to the BBC.

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