Dispelling the myth of China’s 30,000 Internet Police

25 03 2007

By James Nicholas Tay, March 25 2007

Let’s set the record straight. 30,000 Chinese Internet police? wow, really? That’s a big number, and a magically manufactured one.

What started out as rumour with Ethan Gutmann’s article in The Weekly Standard 15 february 2002, turned into “reportedly” 12 days later in an Amnesty International report. By August, and November “reportedly” had been dropped by U.S. newspapers such as the L.A. Times and Washingtion Post, and there you have it, rumour was no longer rumour, and reportedly was no longer reportedly. The rumours and reportedly had magically “like a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly”, turned into fact.

And that is the problem which continues till today with the BBC only last week continuing this myth. Furthermore, the ‘resourceful’ writers at The New York Times on March 4, 2005 have thought it necessary to increase and inflate the figure to 50,000 taking into account the rise of Internet users in China.

Many reporters and publications continue to repeatedly cite and reference the 30,000 number even though this has already been proven false by Nart Villeneuve and Ben Walker. In addition according to Nart Villeneuve EastSouthWestNorth, makes an interesting point that is: “Media reports seem to merge together the self-censorship practices by forums, portals, blog hosting companies and so forth with the Internet police.”

That said, I am not disputing the fact that there are Internet police in China. It is the exaggerated ‘magical’ 30,000 number that I take issue with. On the contrary, they do exist, and are active. They operate their own websites and often engage in law enforcement duties such as detaining suspects and shutting down their websites. They also reportedly, although it is safe to accept as true, often investigate, detain, and arrest dissidents.

In addition, they allow the public to submit reports (reportedly through SMS) against people who according to Nart Villeneuve “want to split the nation, or attack the party and the government, and people with “wrong doctrines opinion”/ falungong. (babelfish).” It is safe to deduce that the mandate of the Chinese Internet police is to investigate reports of people who criticize the government and members of Falun Gong.

I am not saying that Chinese Internet police do not exist. As I have shown above they do, rather it is the inflated, and exaggerated ‘magical’ 30,000 number that I have a problem with. It is clearly untrue, yet is constantly bandied around by the media. Reporting rumour as fact is definitely not helping the issue of Internet censorship in China which is bad enough as it is. Instead, it is contributing and negatively re-inforcing a climate of self-censorship in China. A climate that is detrimental to the cause of a free press in China, a cause in which many reporters and publications champion yet are slowing down with their “magical” 30,000 Internet police.


Egypt: Blogger’s Imprisonment sends a chill throughout the blogosphere

2 03 2007

In an unprecedented move, an Alexandria court sentenced Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Soliman to 4 years‘ imprisonment, for using his blog to criticize Egypt’s top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university, and for insulting the country’s president Hosni Mubarak.

Abdel Kareem Soliman is the first blogger in Egpyt to be prosecuted, sending a spine tingling chill throughout the Egyptian blogosphere. It’s an unprecedent move that is threatening the internet, and blogs as a forum for social, political, and religious thoughts, and opinions in Egypt. The Internet, and blogs are a very important forum and crucially vital in a country where there is virtually no independent media.

Furthermore, as the BBC notes , “not only do Egptian blogs provide a platform for users to discuss political, social, and religious issues freely, but the ability to contribute anonymously is valued in a country where many people are afraid to express political dissent and where there is strong pressure to conform to social and religious norms.”

Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Soliman’s imprisonment however, is sadly, but one more voice in the global cacophony of voices that has been silenced. Across the Middle East, as blogs have become increasingly popular as a window of free expression, Governments have responded by increasingly cracking down on them, and often, threatening, and jailing bloggers. A fellow Egyptian blogger who runs the blog “Rantings of a sand monkey” remarked “It’s a dangerous precedent because it will impact the only free speace available now, which is the internet.”

Personally, I am very saddened by this, as I passionately believe in the Internet and blogs as a wonderful global forum for free expression, discussion, information, and communication. And this is just another example of the Government’s intrusion and attempt to control and regulate cyberspace.

Rather than attempt to crack down on blogs and the internet, I wonder if maybe the Egyptian government might see the benefit of allowing them to flourish. Afterall, blogs can provide an interesting insight into the minds of a country’s citizenry, and what people are thinking about, or discussing. If the authorities listened, they would learn much.

As i sign off, I would like to send a message to my fellow bloggers and netizens in Egypt and the Middle East, Do Not Give Up! Do Not Despair, Keep doing what you are doing, but be safe. There are also many tools and ways to do that (be safe) such as blogging anonymously and using hacktivist tactics to do so. Feel free to email me for assistance, i will be more than glad to help out.