China: Can using a proxy tool be dangerous?

Just days before we were reminded that China remains the world's largest “prison” for bloggers and online journalists, with the former now at as great a threat as traditional reporters, and just three days before the Seventeenth Party Congress put the country on edge, a post appeared on V2EX, an IT community with a strong commitment to free expression and talented designers behind it, in which user ‘Panda’, most likely blogging from eastern China's Hangzhou, wrote:

Everything done for harmony

昨天被警察叔叔找去聊天了,理由是最近访问境外网站太多了(其实境外我就访问v2ex和wikipedia而且向来只是看的),在交代完用什么翻墙后他看了看我本本里没撒他要的又教育了一通后留下姓名单位我就被放回来了.倒霉阿,不过还好没冲到单位找我,不然人家还以为我干嘛了.我用fg翻的墙,想来估计就这个所以被盯上的,建议大家还是换tor或ssh的安全些.现在家里人也整天提心胆,好象我真犯罪了一样,就看个网页就象成了政治犯似的,妈 的人权何在.

The police uncles came looking for me yesterday, the reason being that recently I've been visiting too many overseas websites (actually the only overseas websites I visit are v2ex and Wikipedia, and it's always just been to read them); after I explained to them what I use to get over the wall, they took a look through my laptop but didn't find what they wanted. They gave me a lecture, had me write down my name and workplace and then let me go. Bad luck! But good thing they didn't barge into where I work looking for me; people'd be thinking I'd gone and done something. I use Freegate to get over the GFW, and I guess that's why I'm being watched. I advise everyone to use the more safer Tor or SSH. Now everyone at home is worrying every day, like I'd really committed a crime. It's like just visiting a website has become a political crime…damn, where are our human rights?

PS. That cop said using Freegate to surf the internet is considered illegal!
I'll be having rivercrab for dinner tonight

Yet another random blogger caught in the Party Congress/Beijing Olympics internet crackdown?

Insight was sought from V2EX founder Liu Xin, to whom Panda appeared to be connected:

I just sent a message to him, hope he can tell more about that scary thing.

However, sometimes I guess some of those abnormal things are from *them*, they're making such scary stuff for various purposes. *They* are “comment makers” employed by CCP.

Usually with a nonsense nickname, very few personal information, no blog address. Speaking this and that strange stuff.

They do exist.

The They that Liu refers to are hired internet commentators, also known as the Fifty Cent Party (五毛党), among other things.

From ‘internet commentator's’ zh.Wikipedia entry:

In mainland China, this term appeared earliest on the Nanjing University official BBS. After the Nanjing U administration closed the Little Lily BBS and open the Nanjing University BBS, it ordered student union cadres as well as a number of enthusiastic and ambitious types to serve as “internet commentators”, with promise of scholarships based on monthly assessments of academic achievement. These internet commentators’ main responsibility was “on Nanjing University electronic forums, by means of publishing posts and positive comments, responding, subverting and removing negative information, construct a positive and healthy campus internet environment and at the same time make timely reports to the campus internet management leaders’ offices of any key information related to the school in inner- or extra-school websites.”

By 2006, the entry continues, evidence had been amassed that such situations existed at several college campuses along China's eastern seaboard, but that it was generally believed they could be found at campuses all across the country, adding that, for example, while some webmasters inside China have admitted that such people exist, the majority refuse to answer.

While bloggers being visited at home, particularly of late, is not unheard of in China, not only can no identifying details of Panda's be readily found, but two days after Liu sent his inquiry, the blogger's situation remains unclear. Anyone in China using the proxy tool Freegate, developed and maintained by Falun Gong, is widely held to be at risk of drawing attention to themselves.

For those unable to access the RSF website, a .pdf of the RSF 2007 Press Freedom Index press release can be viewed or downloaded here.

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