It is announced that a new policy will be launched in China to tighten the regulation on "sensitive" internet content, further threatening the rights of Chinese internet users to access information.
In Shenzhen, a southern China's city closest to Hong Kong, virtual police officers are assigned by Shenzhen Public Security Bureau's Internet Surveillance Division this month to patrol on the cyberspace, state media China Daily newspaper said Wednesday.
Cartoons of a male and female police officer will appear whenever someone logs onto a website or enters a chat room. They serve to "remind the online population to be conscious of safe and healthy use of the internet, [and] self-regulate their online behavior," a division official named Chen explained to the China Daily.
The newspaper also reported that six police officers are managing their two virtual images, which are interactive. While internet users are able to ask the officers questions, the officers will offer legal information concerning internet usage.
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 addition, political or other content that the Chinese government considers sensitive are banned, particularly online comments that are deemed explicitly or implicitly critical of the ruling Communist Party or for revealing "state secrets."
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); overseas Chinese-language religious communities in South East Asia, Australasia and North America; religious rights groups; human rights groups; religious news agencies and magazines; religious educational institutions; religious political movements; and foreign governments.
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.
AsiaNews, the Italy-based Catholic news agency, yet noted that websites where the Chinese can read the Bible or sites that convey a positive image of religious freedom in China, and sites that report religious persecution in other countries were unblocked.
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.