Netizen Report: China's “Seven Speak-Nots” Bring New Hurdles for Netizens

Entry gate at East China Normal University. Photo by Peter Portrowl (CC BY 3.0)

Entry gate at East China Normal University. Photo by Peter Potrowl (CC BY 3.0)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Lisa Ferguson, Weiping Li, Alex Laverty, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This report highlights new policies in China that are increasing restrictions for netizens in the country.

Censorship

China's new so-called “Seven Speak-Nots” policy prohibits discussion of “universal values, civil society, citizen rights, judicial independence, freedom of the press, past mistakes of the communist party, and the privileged capitalist class” in university settings. Last week, East China University Professor Zhang Xuezhong described the policy on microblogging site Sina Weibo and subsequently had his account deleted. Mentions of the policy are no longer visible in search engine results in China and users report that all relevant comments on the policy have been wiped from Weibo [zh]. A government memo entitled “Concerning the Situation in the Ideological Sphere” reportedly notes that the “Speak-Nots” have also been incorporated into China’s Internet censorship policy.

A Chinese blogger known as B.Y. was interrogated by Chinese public security agents after she posted a petition on the US government website, We the People. The petition called for international attention to the environmental impact of a planned petrochemical plant in China's Sichuan Province. After authorities demanded she delete the petition, B.Y. posted on Weibo, asking for help in deleting the petition from We the People, which does not have a delete function. Her Weibo post has since been deleted.

Dr. King-Wa Fu at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Centre reported that users’ activities on Sina Weibo have dwindled [zh] since the implementation of China's real-name registration policy, which requires users to give their real names when registering for Internet services and social media accounts. Dr. Fu's team at the Centre developed WeiboSuite, a program that has restored more than 200 million posts in Weibo deleted by the Chinese censors.

At the request of the Australian government’s financial regulator, Australian network operators including Telstra and Optus blocked access to over 1200 websites including an education-focused community group called Melbourne Free University. The government claims the websites were blocked due to suspicion that the institutions had engaged in fraudulent activities. According to Delimiter.com.au, this could “open the door for other government agencies to unilaterally block sites they deem questionable in their own portfolios.”

In Equatorial Guinea, with parliamentary and municipal elections fast approaching, Facebook and the website of the country's opposition party have been blocked. The website of the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea remains operational.

Syria underwent an eight-hour Internet blackout on May 15, the second this month.

Thuggery

Slovenian blogger Mitja Kunstelj was sentenced to six months in prison for defamation. On his popular Mikstone Blog [sv], Kunstelj crudely described details of the private lives of two journalists with whom he had personal relationships. Kunstelj was prosecuted after refusing authorities’ demands that he pay a fine or cease writing posts of the same nature.

Six Bahraini Twitter users were sentenced to a year in prison for “misuse of freedom of expression”; making defamatory remarks about King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa; and “undermining the values and traditions of Bahrain's society towards the king on Twitter.” Many Bahraini activists and supporters have used Twitter to air their grievances with the regime amid the current uprising against the ruling monarchy.

Surveillance

Saudi telecommunication company Mobily solicited help from American developer and privacy advocate Moxie Marlinspike for aid in surveilling encrypted communication applications. Marlinspike publicized the request on Twitter. Reactions can be tracked under a hashtag that translates as “Mobily spies on the people.”

Access to Information

US-based magazine The New Yorker announced that it will become host to Strongbox, the last major open-source secure information sharing project that Internet activist Aaron Swartz worked on before his death. The New Yorker writes that the platform, which is highly secure, will enable the public to “share information, messages, and files with our writers and editors” anonymously.

Ericsson South Africa and the City of Johannesburg are set to activate a broadband network that will provide Internet access to all the city’s municipal buildings, thus allowing the city to achieve ‘Smart City’ status. Other ISPs and companies can use the network too, as the city government needs only a small percentage of the 1.2tb core capacity network. The three-year project is set to launch on July 1.

Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative, which seeks to provide affordable access to smart devices, has launched another partnership in East Africa. Working with the University of Dar es Salaam, the goal of the pilot project is to test the use of TW white spaces in Tanzania, where the wireless spectrum previously used for television is now used to for wireless broadband.

National Policy

Azerbaijan's parliament passed new legislation criminalizing online defamation that will carry a fine of up to US$1270 and a prison terms of three years. President Illham Aliyev, often criticized by human rights groups for suppressing the media, is expected to sign the legislation into law. Amnesty International and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have condemned the amendment as an attack on freedom of expression.

Nepal's Ministry of Information and Communications has established a committee to oversee the registration and regulation of online journalism. The committee, comprised of two government officials, two online news site editors, and a representative of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, is currently holding consultations on how to improve the web domain registration process for Internet media outlets.

In an alleged attempt to identify a source of leaked information regarding CIA operations in Yemen, the US Department of Justice obtained telephone records of the Associated Press news agency using an administrative subpoena. In response, US lawmakers introduced the Telephone Records Protection Act which would amend the current Telephone Records Act to require that government agencies obtain judicial approval before demanding such records. The current law allows federal law enforcement to obtain basic subscriber information with only an administrative subpoena.

Irish Minister for Justice Alan Shatter is planning to introduce amendments to the country’s Criminal Justice Bill, which would allow the government to demand telecommunications companies shut down mobile phone service if authorities suspect that an act of terror might occur in a given area.

Internet Governance

Governments, companies and civil society groups gathered in Geneva from May 14-16 for the Fifth World Telecommunication Policy Forum. Six non-binding opinions on Internet infrastructure have since been issued. One of the more controversial opinions focuses on the issue of multi-stakeholderism in Internet governance. A summary report by ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure is available here.

Cybersecurity

El Mañana, a newspaper in Mexico's northern state of Nuevo Laredo, underwent two cyber attacks on May 12. In recent years, the newspaper has sustained attacks both on and offline. After a series of violent attacks on its offices in 2006, the newspaper stopped reported on drug trafficking.

Internet security company Trend Micro uncovered an active cyber espionage operation known as SafeNet that has reportedly compromised computers in over 100 countries. Trend Micro asserted that SafeNet, which targets users by sending them malicious programs via email, is primarily designed to steal information.

Netizen Activism

Researchers at Humboldt State University developed an interactive map, Geography of Hate, which charts the origins of hateful tweets–homophobic, racist, or targeted at the disabled–by region of the United States.

Cool Things

A man from China’s Sichuan province who had been abducted and taken to Fujian at five years old found his way back home after analyzing Google Maps to figure out where he came from.

Publications and Studies

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