YouTube blocked in China

New York, March 25, 2009–The Chinese government should disclose the legal basis for the sudden, widespread inaccessibility of the video-sharing Web site YouTube, or it should restore access to the site immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Google, which owns YouTube, reported sharply declining traffic within China beginning on Monday, according to international news reports. Local users continued to encounter error messages when trying to access YouTube on Wednesday, according to international media and reports logged by individuals on Herdict, a Berkman Center for Internet and Society project that tracks the global availability of Web sites.

Chinese government spokesmen would not confirm the blocking when asked by reporters, news reports said. The extent of the apparent ban was not immediately clear from published reports. Journalists and online commentators said it affected most of the country. It was not known what video footage may have prompted a shutdown.

The Global Network Initiative, a coalition of Internet companies, academics, investors, and non-governmental organizations, including CPJ, said the blocking was “inconsistent with the rule of law.” More of the Initiative’s statement is on the CPJ Blog.

“We are deeply concerned that millions of Chinese Internet users have been deprived of an important information resource without being told why,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “The blocking of YouTube is a sign of escalating restrictions on media freedom that we have witnessed this month in China. Authorities must explain why YouTube is inaccessible.”

Chinese officials often limit domestic access to internationally hosted Web sites, including YouTube, that carry material counter to government views, according to CPJ research. The March anniversary of a failed uprising in Tibet, and annual government meetings which took place in Beijing this month, have each prompted YouTube closures in the past, according to a BBC report.  

YouTube was shuttered for six days in March last year amid heavy government restrictions on the reporting of ethnic rioting in Tibetan areas, the BBC said. Many journalists believe new restrictions have targeted footage appearing to show Chinese soldiers in uniform beating Tibetan monks. That undated video had been posted by Tibetans outside China, news reports say. Chinese state media criticized the video–without mentioning YouTube–by saying the attacks had been faked.

Parallel annual sessions for China’s top political bodies, the law-making National People’s Congress (NPC) and the advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, also took place earlier this month. The period around the “two meetings,” as they are known in China, is typically one of strict information control. Access to YouTube was cut off for 14 days during a 2007 NPC meeting, according to the BBC.