Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 There has been mounting evidence that once dissident activity has been identified, the Chinese authorities would shift focus from obtaining surveying electronic communication, to physical evidence gathering. This involves Chinese security agents conducting surprise raids on dissidents’ premises. During the dissidents’ arrest and seizure, the prized item would be the suspect’s computer, which is likely to contain incriminating evidence on anti-government activities (Platt, 1999). In “You’ve Got Dissent” (2002), authors Chase and Mulvenon noted 11 similar raids occurring between October 1998 and March 2001. In these raids, electronic communication media were seized from dissident premises, including computers, fax machines, CDs and cassettes.

Comment Icon0 Most notably on 20 January 1999, Lin Hai became the first person to be imprisoned in China for “subversive” use of the Internet. As a computer software engineer and Internet entrepreneur from Shanghai, Lin was sentenced to two years in prison after being charged with subversion for providing a total of 30,000 email addresses to VIP Reference, a widely distributed pro-democracy newsletter that reports on dissident activities and human rights in China (“Court Verdict on Lin Hai,” 1999). While Lin argued that he transmitted the email addresses for commercial reasons, the Chinese court rejected his defence on the grounds that his communication has been with politically motivated online newsletters, Tunnel and VIP Reference. As a sign of Beijing’s efforts in clamping down dissident uses of the Internet to organize, disseminate uncensored information and contact “overseas hostile forces”, Lin’s sentence was apparently intended to deter potential “cyberdissidents” from using the Internet for similar subversive ends.

Comment Icon0 Besides charging dissidents for anti-government uses of the Internet, it has been reported that Chinese authorities have also resorted to targeting dissidents with subversive uses of the Internet that are not inherently political in nature. This particular tactic allows the authorities to silence or smear their targets’ character, rendering them less effective in their discourse with the general public. An example was made in January 2000, when Public Security Bureau officers arrested Shanghai dissident writer, Wang Yiliang, for his participation in an unauthorized literary association. When the authorities raided his home, they discovered images of nude women in his computer, supposedly downloaded from the Internet. The Chinese authorities subsequently used this to sentence him to two years of re-education through labor for “possessing pornographic articles” (“Court Verdict on Lin Hai,” 1999).

Comment Icon0 When there is widespread unrest and the above-mentioned regulatory tactics fail, the Chinese government’s ultimate response would be to shut down communication networks in order to gain control. The first related case occurred during the anti-Japanese demonstrations of 1996, when there were student-organized disputes on territorial sovereignty of the contested Diaoyutai / Senkaku Islands. When Chinese students used email to organize anti-Japanese demonstrations, Chinese officials responded by shutting down computer bulletin boards on some campuses (Mufson, 1996). In April 1999, the government reportedly ordered one ISP to suspend email service for two days in order to disrupt a Falungong gathering in Beijing. Upon the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre on 4 June 2000, the Ministry of Public Security reportedly slowed or shut down China’s anonymous email sites, 163.net and 263.net.

Comment Icon0 The same “shut down” tactic has also been employed across other communication networks, such as shortmessaging services (SMS). On 1 June 2007, with widespread public anger at the planned construction of a toxic chemical plant located dangerously close to the south-east China’s seaside city of Xiamen, a mass demonstration was held. Despite a media blackout of the news, around 10,000 people turned up on time and on location thanks to the news disseminated exclusively via SMS, BBS postings and blogs. Although the government was able to stop the SMS from spreading for several days, nearly all BBS webmasters and blog service providers were swift to delete any related discussions. Since there were several cellular networks in China, some were still active and demonstrators were able to post their SMS live updates straight onto Bullog, China’s leading independent blogger community. This gave Bullog a national exclusive as to what was happening minute-by-minute on the ground, which had drawn so much web traffic that it left Bullog’s web host-server grinding to a halt (Kennedy, 2007).

Chapter 5.2.2 – Laws: Enforcement via Arrests, Seizures and Internet Shutoff

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