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World’s biggest Internet prison

HONG KONG (Agencies): “China is the world’s biggest prison of journalists and netizens,” Radio Free Asia said in a new report from Reporters Without Borders on January 30.

“China has one of the world’s worst records on press freedom, with controls on state-run media and netizens showing no signs of abating,” it quoted the report as saying.

Reporters Without Borders rated China at 173 out of 179 on the Index of Press Freedom, but called it the world’s biggest prison for Internet users.

“Its prisons still hold many journalists and netizens, while increasingly unpopular Internet censorship continues to be a major obstacle to accessing information,” the report says.

By comparison, the recalcitrant state of North Korea was placed at 178, with Vietnam at 172 a bit below Laos at 168.

The report quotes an Anhui-based democracy advocate, Zhang Lin, as saying he feels the pressure on political and human rights activism in China has barely let up since the once-in-a-decade leadership transition of the ruling Chinese Communist Party at the end of last year.

Zhang was quoted as saying that a dispute over heavy-handed government censorship of the New Year editorial in the Southern Weekend newspaper—which sparked protests after it announced a strike over political censorship—had shown the authorities were far from willing to let up on the media.

“There remains a strict system for regulating the traditional media, particularly newspapers, television and radio programmes,” Zhang comments. “They still delete Internet posts wholesale.”

Zhang says that the authorities also use threatening tactics to suppress and discourage people with dissenting political views.

“They call in large numbers of democracy advocates and rights activists to drink tea,” he says, a euphemism for questioning by the authorities.

Zhang says that even breathing a word to a foreign journalist is enough to earn an invitation to come and drink tea.

Wu Bin, a Zhejiang-based press freedom advocate, known online by his nickname, Xiucai Jianghu, agrees. “China has no news; it only has propaganda,” Wu claims. “They will cover up heaven and earth in their reports. The news is used in the service of politics, not the truth.”

Wu told Reporters Without Borders that his account on the Twitter-like service, Sina Weibo, was closed after he voiced online support for the Southern Weekend. “Account closures happen all the time,” he adds. The report also singled out Tibet, where local people and monks have been incarcerated simply for telling people outside the region what is going on there.

However, the Union of Myanmar got a bit of a pat on the back rising from 169 on the index last year to 151. Hong Kong, which traditionally enjoys far greater freedom generally than mainland China, dropped four places to 58.

Cambodia had a dramatic fall of 26 spots to 143, its lowest-ever position, due to what was called an increasingly ruthless policy of censorship and deadly attacks on journalists who exposed government corruption.

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