China: CPJ condemns censorship of blogger

New York, January 6, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Chinese authorities for censoring well-known blogger Zhao Jing, and is alarmed by Microsoft’s agreement to pull down his site.

Zhao, whose online pen name is An Ti, lost his site on the U.S. company’s hosting service MSN Spaces on December 30 after he wrote about the government’s removal of top editors at the Beijing News, and a highly unusual strike by journalists at the paper in protest at the dismissals, according to The New York Times.

“China’s growing attempt to stifle the free flow of news and opinion by making Internet companies complicit in their repressive policies is deeply disturbing ,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “But for an Internet company to argue that it must honor contractual agreements when operating in China does not absolve it of its responsibility to uphold the ideal behind the Internet – the free and open exchange of information.”

The blogger, who is also a researcher at the Beijing office of The New York Times, received no warning from Microsoft before his site was deleted, he told The Times. “This action by Microsoft infringed upon my freedom of speech,” said Zhao, according to The Times. “They even deleted my blog and gave me no chance to back up my files without any warning.”

A Microsoft spokesperson said the company had been told by the Chinese authorities that the blog had violated local laws and they requested its removal. “While this is a complex and difficult issue, we remain convinced it is better for Microsoft and other multinational companies to be in these markets with our services and communications tools, as opposed to not being there,” the spokesperson told CPJ.

The Chinese government has implemented a broad and sophisticated system of monitoring and censoring the Internet, where reporters and others often post news banned from publication or broadcast inside China. Authorities have successfully solicited the help of many multi-national information and technology companies to aid their efforts. Microsoft has previously come under fire for agreeing to block the use of words like “democracy” and “human rights” on MSN Spaces.

Last year, Yahoo provided Chinese authorities account holder information used to imprison journalist Shi Tao, whom CPJ honored with its 2005 International Press Freedom Award. Shi, formerly an editor at Dangdai Shang Bao daily newspaper, was sentenced to ten years in prison in April 2004 for trafficking in state secrets after he used his Yahoo account to email notes from propaganda department instructions to his newspaper. Yahoo said it was complying with local law.

Fifteen of the 32 journalists in prison in China in 2005 wrote for the Internet.