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The number of blocked sites appeared to increase around major political events and sensitive dates. The authorities reportedly began to employ more sophisticated technology enabling the selective blocking of specific content rather than entire Web sites. Such technology was also used to block e-mails containing sensitive content (see section 1.f.). The government generally did not prosecute citizens who received dissident e mail publications, but forwarding such messages to others sometimes did result in detention. Individuals using the Internet in public libraries were required to register using their national identity card. Internet usage reportedly was monitored at all terminals in public libraries.
The Ministry of Information Industry regulated access to the Internet while the Ministries of Public and State Security monitored its use. Regulations prohibit a broad range of activities that authorities interpreted as subversive or as slanderous to the state, including the dissemination of any information that might harm unification of the country or endanger national security. Promoting "evil cults" was banned, as was providing information that "disturbs social order or undermines social stability." Internet service providers (ISPs) were instructed to use only domestic media news postings, record information useful for tracking users and their viewing habits, install software capable of copying e-mails, and immediately end transmission of so-called subversive material. Many ISPs practiced extensive self-censorship to avoid violating broadly worded regulations. According to a 2003 study by Reporters Without Borders of messages deemed to have "controversial content," only 30 percent were allowed onto Chinese "chat rooms." The site host filtered out or removed the remaining 70 percent.
Several individuals were jailed for their Internet writing during the year. Perhaps most notable was the 10-year sentence meted out to Hunan Province journalist Shi Tao in April for disclosing state secrets. According to the verdict in Shi's case, police searched his e-mail files and found that Shi had described to an overseas Internet discussion forum a propaganda department directive barring Chinese media from covering the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. That directive, widely circulated to Chinese journalists, was deemed a state secret. Shi had previously written extensively about corruption for Contemporary Trade News, and his jailing was also viewed as retaliation for such reporting. His attorney was jailed days before Shi's March 11 trial, and a substitute attorney entered a guilty plea on Shi's behalf.
Internet essayist Zhang Lin was detained in January and convicted in July on charges of endangering national security. The primary evidence against Zhang consisted of excerpts from 192 articles he posted online, including the words to a rock music song. Zhang was detained immediately upon returning from Beijing to mourn China's Tiananmen-era Premier Zhao Ziyang. Zhang used the country's constitutional guarantee of free expression in his defense, but was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. He began a hunger strike in September.
Tsewangnorbu, a webmaster for a Web site run by the Snow Country Tibetans, was not heard from after Gansu Province security authorities shut down the Web site March 25, according to NGOs. His whereabouts remained unknown. In July, Internet writer and poet Zheng Yichun was sentenced to seven years in prison in Liaoning Province for inciting subversion. Evidence against him consisted of 63 articles and several essays he wrote calling for political reform, greater economic freedom and the end of imprisonment of writers. In December an intermediate court rejected Zheng's appeal. In October, Shi Xiaoyu was reportedly detained in Zhejiang Province after writing about labor disputes online. His status at year's end was unknown.
In April cyber dissident Yan Jun was released in Xian after serving a two-year sentence. Yan reportedly fled to Taiwan after his release. In June cyber dissident Huang Qi was released after serving his full five-year term for running a Web site discussing the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. Upon release he was supervised and his movements restricted. Some who supported Huang during his imprisonment, including previously detained university Internet essayist Liu Di, continued to suffer harassment and house arrest around sensitive political occasions. In August Shanghai petitioner activist Ma Yalian was released from a reeducation camp, where she had been held after posting articles online stating that individuals were committing suicide in front of government petitioning offices.
The government continued its efforts to get companies to sign a "Public Pledge on Self Discipline for China's Internet Industry." More than 300 companies had signed the pledge, including the popular Sina.com and Sohu.com, as well as foreign-based Yahoo's China division. Those who signed the pledge agreed not to spread information that "breaks laws or spreads superstition or obscenity." They also promised to refrain from "producing, posting, or disseminating pernicious information that may jeopardize state security and disrupt social stability." According to court documents Yahoo provided information to security authorities, including access to private e-mail accounts, used in the prosecution of journalist Shi Tao for leaking state secrets,. The company said it was required to provide the information under national law and customs. In December Microsoft deleted a blog reporting on the firing of journalists and a controversial strike at the Beijing News, stating that it did so at the government's request
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