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For Immediate Release: Human Rights Watch
June 26, 2000
For More Information:
Jan van der Made (Hong Kong) +852 2508 6494
Mike Jendrzejczyk (Wash, DC +1 202 612 4341 (o) +1 240 604 6194 (cell)
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CHINA: FOREIGN COMPANIES SHOULD PROTEST INTERNET DETENTION
(New York, June 26, 2000) - Human Rights Watch today called on foreign companies involved in developing China's Internet to strongly protest the detention of Huang Qi. Huang, who had maintained an Internet website exposing human rights abuses in China, has been detained since June 3, 2000, in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.
Because Huang Qi has not yet been put on trial, foreign companies have a rare opportunity to help bring about his release, Human Rights Watch said.
"The Internet is supposed to help bring freedom to China," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. "But thats more likely to happen if foreign companies object to the punishment of Internet users trying to advance freedom."
Human Rights Watch emphasized that China's attempts to control access to the Internet through politically-motivated regulations and detentions blatantly violate users' free expression rights. The Chinese government has blocked the websites of newspapers and dissident websites based abroad. Companies that fail to screen messages and to prevent users from posting certain kinds of information on the web could also be blocked. Internet users, including companies intending to use the Internet, are required by law to register with the police.
While Internet and mobile technology are merging, foreign telecommunications and software companies are investing heavily in the development of China's Internet.
"Internet companies are helping to provide Chinese people with an important new means of communication, enhancing their access to the free flow of information, and this is to be welcomed," said Jendrzejczyk. "But they should not turn a blind eye to users who are being censored, harassed, and arrested."
On June 3, local police detained Huang Qi and his wife, Zeng Li. She was released after three days, but said that police told her Huang was being charged with "subversion," a charge which could result in his being imprisoned for life.
Huang's website (www.6-4tianwang.com) existed for a year and grew out of an electronic billboard for missing persons. The website developed into a discussion forum where people reported human rights abuses neglected or ignored by the official Chinese press. On the eve of the eleventh anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, users posted increasingly critical messages, including an account by a mother who accused police of having beaten her son to death during the crackdown.
Visitors to Huang Qi's web page were able to follow his own detention as it took place. At 5:05 p.m. on June 3, Huang, who operated under the name "Nan Bo," posted a message saying: "Goodbye everyone. The Public Security Department summoned me for interrogation." Two minutes later, he reported: "Four people of the Chengdu Public Security (bureau) came to summon me for interrogation. I told them to produce a written summons. I estimate that they will bring it in ten minutes."
At 5:15 p.m., he posted his last message, "The road is still long. Thank you everybody. Thanks to all who make an effort on behalf of democracy in China. They have come. Goodbye."
Since commercial establishment of the Internet in China in 1994, the number of Internet users has grown to ten million, according to a recent report in the China Daily. Chinese authorities have issued an increasing number of rules and regulations to control its content. Regulations issued in January 2000, forbid users from "exposing state secrets," a charge that has often been used in the past to imprison dissidents and critics of the government. China's practice and laws classify an enormous range of information as "state secrets," including innocuous information already in the public domain. The secrecy laws have often been manipulated to imprison citizens who spread critical ideas and information outside of established channels.
Internet users charged with violating China's strict security laws can face sentences of up to life in prison, depending on the specific provisions of the penal code under which they are charged. Websites found to publish offending material, if operated from within China, can be shut down at will by public security officials.
Meanwhile, Qi Yanchen, one of the founders of the China Development Union, a non-governmental organization which was banned in December 1998, is awaiting verdict after a four-and-a-half-hour trial on June 2, 2000, in the eastern Chinese city of Cangzhou, Hebei province. Qi was detained for putting parts of his book, "The Collapse of China," on the Internet. Under a pen name, he also posted articles on the web about the spiritual Falun Gong movement, branded as an "evil cult" and banned in July 1999, and about the China Democracy Party, banned in late 1998. He has been charged with subverting state power.
Falun Gong practitioners have also been imprisoned in part for their use of the Internet to protest the suppression of Falun Gong or to spread the movement's beliefs.
Lin Hai, a software entrepreneur in Shanghai who provided an overseas electronic newsletter with 30,000 email addresses was sentenced to two years in jail on March 1998. He was charged with attempts to overthrow state power. Lin is belived to be the first person in China to be sentenced in connection with the Internet. He was released on September 23, 1999, six months early, after widespread international attention to his case.