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New China Internet Study Ignores Internet Crackdown Markle/CASS Report Methodology “Misleading”

November 25, 2003

(New York, November 25, 2003) -- A new study of Internet use and its impact in China fails to address the Chinese government’s ongoing campaign against web users who express views Beijing doesn’t like, Human Rights in China said today.

The new report Surveying Internet Usage and Impact in Twelve Cities, funded by the Markle Foundation (www.markle.org), is a twelve-city, two-year study carried out by a key government research institute, the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS). It purports to be the most comprehensive ever assessment of Internet use in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Among the key findings, a substantial portion of Internet users agree the “Internet provides more opportunities to express political views and criticize government policies.”

“China leads the world in Internet and media censorship,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China. “This report completely glosses over the PRC government’s ongoing campaign against those who do seek to peacefully express their views online.”

Human Rights in China has documented cases of at least 69 journalists and Internet activists who are currently in prison. Most are serving sentences for “incitement to subverting state power,” “leaking state secrets overseas,” “endangering state security,” and “illegal publishing.” Such arrests and heavy prison sentences are intended in part to deter other Internet users from voicing critical views and to foster self-censorship.

Human Rights in China said that the methodology used for the Markle/CASS report was critically flawed and misleading.

“Conducting an opinion survey in a society where the public has limited access to uncensored information is fundamentally unreliable,” said Hom. “What people say and think –particularly in an authoritarian state – is necessarily shaped by fear, self-censorship, and government control of information.”

Human Rights in China said the new study was especially ironic in view of recent tightened regulation of Internet cafes, chat rooms, Web sites, and e-mail use. China has also developed and effectively deployed filtering methods and site-blocking, including access to search engines such as Google.

“The Markle/CASS report gives an overly optimistic view of the future of the Internet in China.” said Hom. “However, one litmus test for true openness and freedom of expression is whether Beijing will continue to imprison students, writers, democracy activists and others for simply expressing their views.”

Cases of individuals arrested for Internet-related activities:

Ouyang Yi, a political activist criticizing the Chinese government and using the Internet to spread his demands for democratic reforms was tried on October 16, 2003 on charges of « incitement to subvert state power ». He had been arrested on 4 December 2002 and charged with “incitement to overthrow state power” by the Chengdu Public Security Bureau on January 7, 2003. The Court has not rendered a decision, although he faces up to 15 years in prison. Ouyang is currently being detained at the Sichuan Province no. 1 Detention Center.

Yan Jun another Internet activist, was detained on April 2, 2003 and formally arrested on May 9 on the same charges. His trial began in close proceedings on October 27 on charges of 'incitement to subvert state power,' and his sentence has not been announced yet. While in detention, he has been constantly beaten by other prisoners under the encouragement of Public security police.

Internet activist Li Zhi, from Dazhou city, Sichuan province, has been formally arrested on September 3, 2003 on charges of “conspiracy to subvert state power” after being detained since August 8. Li Zhi had frequently expressed his views in Internet bulletin boards and chatrooms. Under those charges, Li Zhi could be sentenced to up to 15 year in prison.

Jin Haike, Xu Wei and Zhang Honghai founded the New Youth Society in May 2000, a study group that discussed political and democratic reforms, as well as published their findings and theoretical ideas on the Internet. On March 13, 2001, the Beijing state security bureau detained them along with Yang Zili, another New Youth Society member. On August 28, 2001, they were tried by the No. 1 Intermediate People's Court on charges of “incitement to subvert state power”, and found guilty of the charges on October 28, 2003. Jin and Xu were each sentenced to ten years in prison at the Beijing State Security Bureau Detention Center, Yang and Zhang, to eight years each. On November 4, 2003, a Beijing Court heard their appeals, but they were turned down on November 11, 2003. The four men have repeatedly told the no. 1 Intermediate People's Court that they have been tortured in prison, but the Court has refused to initiate an investigation.

Huang Qi, 38, an Internet activist and web master who gained notoriety for publishing several articles about the June 4 massacre on his Tianwang web site, was detained on June 3, 2000 and arrested on charges of “organizing national separatism, destroying national unity”, “organizing, plotting or carrying out activities aimed at subverting state political power” and “overthrowing the socialist system” on June 5, 2003. He is currently serving a five-year sentence at Chengdu Public Security Bureau no. 1 Detention Center. It is believed that Huang has been tortured while in prison.

Liu Di, known by her Internet pen name as “the Stainless Steel Mouse,” was detained on November 7, 2002 and was formally arrested on December 15, 2002. Under the provisions of the Illegal Organizations Intervention Act, the Public Security Bureau arrested her under the charges of “endangering the national security”, for publishing criticisms on the Internet. The Beijing Prosecutor's office declined to prosecute Liu on the charges, citing a lack of evidence and requesting the Beijing Public Security Bureau to carry out an additional investigation. She is currently being held at Beijing PSB Detention Center on charges of endangering state security.

Li Yibin, publisher of the online magazine “Democracy and Freedom”, was secretly detained in November 2002 in Beijing. He is now awaiting trial on charges of incitement to subvert state power and he is being held at the Beijing Detention Center.

Tao Haidong, 45, released in January 2001 from Reeducation Through Labor to which he had been condemned for publishing a book, was re-arrested on July 9, 2002, while he was posting articles on web sites in China and overseas. On January 8, 2003, he was tried in secret at the Urumqi People's intermediate court and found guilty of “incitement to overthrow state power”, for which he received a seven-year prison sentence. He is being held at the Urumqi Dadaowan Detention Center.

Wang Daqi, 70, was arrested on January 24, 2002, and sentenced on December 19, 2002 to one year in prison on charges of “inciting the overthrow of state power” because of articles he had published in his magazine Ecology. He is being detained at the Hefei Luosigang Detention Center in Anhui province.

Jiang Lijun was arrested on November 6, 2002, then transferred to Beijing’s Qincheng Prison because he had posted political views on the Internet. He was tried on November 4, 2003 on charges of “incitement to subvert state power”. Jiang's crime has been to publish essays and comments on political issues in China.

Luo Yongzhong 36, was detained by public security officials on June 13 at his apartment in the Northeastern city of Changchun, Jilin province. Luo had published more than 150 articles online on topics such as the plight of the disabled and the need for constitutional reform. He was charged with subversion and sentenced to three years imprisonment and two years without political rights upon release on October 14, 2003.