The world’s leading search engine Google has launched the Chinese version website Google.cn, yet human rights groups are concerned that Google’s censorship will jeopardize freedom for accessing information.
Google, which has as its motto "Don't Be Evil," says to the Associated Press (AP) the new site aims to make its search engine more accessible in China, thereby expanding access to information. However, under the strict regulation of the Chinese government on internet content, Google agreed to censor the material about human rights, Tibet, Taiwanese independence, the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and other topics sensitive to Beijing, sources say.
According to AP, a test for certain special search words is carried out. Searches for sensitive terms such as "democracy" and "human rights" yielded similar results. In most such cases, only official Chinese government sites or those with a ".cn" suffix were included.
The censorship has reflected the Chinese government’s move to suppress freedom of accessing information, a media watchdog Reporters Without Borders told the AP about the major concern.
"When a search engine collaborates with the government like this, it makes it much easier for the Chinese government to control what is being said on the Internet," said Julien Pain, head of the group's Internet desk.
"But they continue to justify themselves by saying their presence has a long-term benefit. Yet the internet in China is becoming more and more isolated from the outside world and freedom of expression there is shrinking," the group said, according to another report by the U.K.-based newspaper Independent.
According to Christian Newswire, Institute on Religion and Public Policy President Joseph K. Grieboski wrote an letter to Google, Inc's Chairman and CEO, Dr. Eric Schmidt, complaining the decision of the group to self-censor its Chinese language website.
"The decision by Google Inc. to acquiesce to Chinese government policy contradicts the freedom of information ideology that Google Inc. has embraced throughout the world since its inception," Grieboski stated in the letter. "With a censored Google website, only propaganda speaking against minority groups will circulate, expurgating any unbiased information from the Chinese public and further forcing underground faiths to smuggle information out of the country."
Google argued that even though removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information is "more inconsistent with our mission," AP reported. Google planned to notify users when access had been restricted, and said that it could play a more useful role in China by participating than by boycotting it.
The existing domestic giant search engines- Sohu.com Inc. and Baidu.com Inc.- as well as China sites operated by Yahoo Inc and Microsoft, all routinely block searches on politically sensitive terms.
New laws to control the information posted on the internet has just been implemented in September 2005 by the China’s State Council Information Office and the Ministry of Information Industry. China claimed that these new laws were established in order to "protect the interests of the state."
Currently, religious news - such as those criticizing the government’s religious policies- are prohibited from being posted on the internet, sources say.
In 2004, Forum 18 – a Norway-based agency that monitors religious freedom in Communist and former Soviet states – released a report following a two-month investigation conducted on China's censorship of religious materials on the internet.
As part of their investigation, the agency tested several hundred religious sites, including sites in a variety of languages (Chinese, Korean, Russian and Western languages) maintained by different faiths (including Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish). The tests were carried out from mid-May to mid-July and looked at access in a variety of locations in China. At the conclusion of its investigation, Forum 18 reported that all the sites found by the agency to be inaccessible in China were accessible in Europe and North America.
Despite the tightening restriction imposed by the Chinese government on internet users, it does not stop the internet market from flourishing. According to the latest statistics released by the China Internet Network Information Center, the number of Web users in China grew by 18 percent in 2005 to 111 million. The 2005 gains were higher than those in 2004, when the number of Internet users grew 16 percent to 94 million, Reuters reported.