January 23, 2009

China Blocks 1,250 “˜Vulgar’ Web Sites, Arrests 41

A China government official announced on Friday that the nation has blocked 1,250 Web sites for "vulgarity" in its campaign to rid its boundaries of pornography.

"The purpose of this campaign is very clear," Liu Zhengrong, deputy director of the State Council Information Office's Internet Bureau, told reporters. "It's aimed at creating a healthy Internet environment for all young people and making the Internet in China safer and more reliable."

The latest crackdown has resulted in the arrest of 41 people since Jan. 5, and more than 3.3 million pornographic or vulgar terms already blocked, but Liu said more work needed to be done.

"We have made apparent achievements but it's only for this phase," Liu told reporters. "We still have a lot of work to do."

Critics claim China is reaching out to do more than protect children from "vulgar" content. The nation's Communist Party is also likely to be trying to squelch dissenters in a year of sensitive anniversaries, including the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests, said analysts.

"The Internet remains where the battle for information lies and the fact that the government is devoting so much effort at reining it in, in itself indicates how much of a threat they perceive it to be," Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch told Reuters.

China has an average of 240,000 new Chinese Internet users and 3,000 new sites daily, Liu said.

"Our biggest challenge is that the Internet is still growing," he said. "We are facing a long-term, complex and huge task."

According to the Associated Press, "when asked if there would also be more stringent monitoring of sensitive topics like this year's 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, Liu did not answer directly but said there was "Ëœclear, legal provision about what kind of information should not be provided on the Internet.'"

"I can tell you very candidly, our work does not have anything to do with political content. People are extremely supportive of this campaign," said Li Jiaming, director of the China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center.