Thought it strains belief, Chinese authorities have increased censorship of the Internet even more. Recent developments have expanded China’s notorious “Great Firewall,” already the world’s most complex attempt at strict control of online communications.
Last month, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) passed new legislation establishing new criminal sanctions for creating and spreading “false” information online. On November 2nd, the media reported a deal made between the CCP and a Los Angeles company to enforce this censorship globally. These efforts are just one of the many implemented in the past months by the CCP to silence political dissent.
It is not uncommon in China for online dissidents to be sentenced to jail or to be fined for creating and spreading “false” information about the CCP or for browsing banned websites. In fact, the practice has been going on for years. What’s different about the new law is that these earlier punishments were administrative, not criminal. Dissidents can now be convicted as criminals and for longer periods of time. To prevent these “criminals” from committing crimes, the law also gives more control to authorities to control the flow of online information.
The CCP has not stopped there, as tighter regulations are also expected to be enforced in the future. A month ago, CCP officials announced the launching of “Internet Plus,” a system that combines stricter censorship with greater efforts to monitor the Chinese people’s daily lives. Intended to be a social credit system, it will monitor daily personal and business transactions, ranking or grading citizens depending on where they go, what they buy, and who they know. The motive behind this Orwellian tool: to “improve” citizens’ behavior.
Supported by two million Internet-monitoring personnel and over 60 regulations, Chinese authorities have developed the world’s most advanced Internet control system. Originally known as the Golden Shield Project, the Great Firewall restricts what people can access and what people can share online. Party officials argue that the purpose of online websites is not to inform the public of facts, but to “serve socialism” and to “safeguard the nation’s interests and public interests.” Therefore, any content on the web that does not serve socialism is banned.
Even as China vies to become the world’s largest economy, it comes dead last in a recent Internet freedom report. By controlling what Chinese citizens may read, the CCP also controls what they may learn and discuss. The CCP’s blocking system works by scanning URLs and webpage content that contain certain taboo words, such as “Tiananmen Square,” “Dalai Lama,” “Tibet,” or “persecution.” With such a broad mandate for censorship, many major news sources including The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Radio Free Asia, BBC and Voice of America are completely banned. Other sources are just partially banned, including The New York Times.
The CCP’s censorship does not end with news sources—human rights organizations and government-related websites are similarly banned. Social media outlets, including Facebook and Twitter, are also censored because they help “disseminate banned information.”
Since the Great Firewall went up, thousands of people have been sentenced to prison for violating these laws. Examples better illustrate the human toll: In 2002, Wang Xiaoning and other activists were sentenced to prison for using a Yahoo email account to post anonymous comments. In 2013 Phy Ziquang, a civil rights lawyer, wrote blog posts criticizing China’s policies towards ethnic Uighurs. He was charged with inciting “ethnic hatred and picking quarrels.”
The dangers of China’s Great Firewall extend far beyond the mainland. China’s censorship program is now being exported to other authoritarian regimes interesting in quashing dissent, including North Korea, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Thailand. Last month, Thailand announced its plans to build a firewall to censor and conduct surveillance on almost all of the country’s digital traffic.
Yet despite the continuous efforts of the CCP to prevent the exchange of information between China and the rest of the world, dissidents continue to find loopholes in the Great Firewall. Because of them, authorities have to constantly upgrade and change the censorship system.
Unfortunately for the CCP, companies around the world, like Ultrasurf in Silicon Valley and Freegate, are helping Chinese citizens outsmart the party’s censors. It is because of these efforts that the world learns about the human rights abuses and the extensive power of the Chinese Communist Party. And it is also how Chinese citizens learn about the devastating crimes of Communism.
Here is a list of websites that are banned in the PRC:
Note: This is an incomplete list
The New York Times
Wall Street Journal
Commercial Radio Hong Kong
Sing Tao Daily
Radio Television Hong Kong
China Digital Times
Voice of America
Radio Free Asia
Congressional-Executive Commission on China
Broadcasting Board of Governors
American Institute in Taiwan
President of the Republic of China
Mainland Affairs Council
Hong Kong’s Civic Party
Hong Kong’s Democratic Party
Young Civic group (Hong Kong)
The Frontier (pro-democracy political group, Hong Kong)
League of Social Democrats (political party, Hong Kong)
Hong Kong’s Democratic Progressive Party
Taiwan Solidarity Union
Green Party Taiwan
China Democracy Party
Inner Mongolian People’s Party
Australia Tibet Council
Hong Kong University Students’ Union
Taipei Computer Association
Committee to Protect Journalists
Association of Taiwan Journalists
Reporters without Borders
Civil Human Rights Front
Human Rights Watch
International Society for Human Rights
Women’s Rights without Frontiers
Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor
Taiwan Association for Human Rights
China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group