Teacher in China jailed for Web posting

A secondary-school teacher in China has been given a two-year jail sentence for posting what Beijing considered to be an anti-government slur on an Internet bulletin board last August.

Jiang Shihua, 27, was convicted by the Nanchong City Intermediate People's Court in Sichuan province for 'inciting to subvert state power' last December, said Frank Lu, founder of the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

According to the Information Center, Jiang was arrested a week after he posted a 'down with the communist party' banner on a local chatroom in August 2000. In a statement, the Information Center added that China's Internet police have been closely monitoring content on Chinese sites in a bid to curb all comments they consider harmful to state security or social stability.

International human rights groups are up in arms about China's strict Internet laws. Lu pointed out if the Chinese government continues its heavy-handed way of restricting freedom of speech over the Net, by using filters and digital blocks that prevent users from logging on to sensitive sites, the growth of the Internet in China will be impeded.

Sophia Woodman, research director at Human Rights in China (HRIC) also criticized the government's handling of the matter.

"The arrest of people who express opinions, or create space for others to express their opinions peacefully, is a very serious abuse of the concept of state security," she said. "There's no proper rationale in banning this kind of political thought."

Last December, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress took measures to control online criminal activity by passing a range of new laws relating to the Internet. At the time, they publicly stated that content written to "overthrow the Socialist system," to "destroy national unification," or to "maintain contact with cult members," were all criminal offenses. "Establishing pornographic Web sites and Web pages," or "providing links to pornographic sites" was also deemed illegal.

The arrest and sentencing of Jiang follows a string of convictions related to the Internet. The HRIC said that in 1999, 30-year old Lin Hai was sentenced to two years in jail when he was convicted of sending 30,000 Chinese e-mail addresses to a pro-democracy magazine. In a separate incident, Qi Yanchen, 35, was charged with subversion after he printed out copies of a banned journal published by Chinese dissidents in the U.S. on the Internet, HRIC officials said.

Further back still in 1999, the government shut down Richtalk, a popular and politically outspoken Internet forum in China at the time. More recently, Chinese portal Sina.com exercised "self-censorship" when it shut down its China chatroom early this month -- after several comments were made against the communist government -- in an effort to abide by China's strict Internet laws, a Sina.com official said.

However, Woodman said that there is no way to ascertain how many Internet-related arrests have been made in total.

"There are a few cases which we've known about, but the cases were not necessarily similar," Woodman said. "It's impossible to know (of all arrests) because we find out only if a family member or a friend takes the initiative to contact us, or if the case is reported -- and not all these case will be reported."

The first person who was known to be brought to trail for an Internet-related offense was 37-year old Huang Qi, who was arrested for allowing anti-government messages to be posted onto his Web site (http://www.6-4tianwang.com). His trial, which was initially scheduled for last month, has now been postponed due to his poor health, HRIC officials said.

Human Rights in China officials recognized that although Beijing has tried to restrict the use of the Internet, their efforts have been less effective than for other forms of media.

"(Restrictions on) print and the broadcast media is just as bad, if not worse, than that which currently applies to the Internet," Woodman said. "The nature of the Internet is that it's immediate and (therefore) much more difficult to control."

This story, "Teacher in China jailed for Web posting " was originally published by Computerworld.

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