CHINA: Firms accused of aiding Chinese internet censorship

The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has urged 14 companies, including Cisco Systems and Yahoo!, to take a stand against any such repression

The Age
Friday, December 5, 2003

An international press freedom group today accused some of the world's leading internet-related multinational firms of assisting or turning a blind eye to a Chinese government crackdown on internet access.

The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has urged 14 companies, including Cisco Systems and Yahoo!, to take a stand against any such repression, according to a statement today.

RSF said some of the firms, which are based in North America, Europe, Japan and South Korea, are selling material directly helping China to spy on and crack down on people using the internet.

Other companies simply close their eyes to the situation, it claims.

"All of them should feel responsible for the plight of China's embattled internet users," RSF said.

The organisation has sent a letter to each company's chief executive officer, along with the first issue of a monthly RSF newsletter called "Internet Repression News", recording the latest Chinese efforts to stifle freedom of expression online.

RSF says it plans to send copies of its newsletter regularly to the executives.

"We are asking them to bear in mind the contents of the newsletter when making their business decisions," RSF secretary-general Robert Menard said.

He noted that each of the 14 firms targeted did different kinds of business with China. Cisco Systems supplies special online spying systems, while Intel only sells its standard products, RSF said.

Yahoo! agreed to facilitate censorship in exchange for access to the Chinese market, while South Korea's Samsung is simply selling its goods to a neighbouring country, it said.

The letters to the executives outline the situation, note each company's degree of responsibility and call on them to use their influence to persuade the Chinese government to allow more internet freedom.

Beijing was censoring hundreds of websites of Western media outlets, political dissidents and others that are viewed as critical of the government or the ruling Communist Party, RSF said.

Assisted by foreign companies, the government has also acquired very sophisticated technical means to spy on the internet, its users and the messages they send, according to RSF.

Chinese police constantly hunt down cyber-dissidents.

According to an RSF tally, 46 are in prison for setting up independent news websites or simply for posting material online criticising the authorities.

The companies could not immediately be reached for comment.