Freedom House, an “independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world”, has published its 2012 Freedom on the Net Report, and the news isn’t good for Chinese internet users.
China was the only country to score in every measure of internet censorship, including “notable political blocking”, “blogger/ICT user physically attacked or killed”, and “technical attacks against government critics”.
Unlike its famously repressive neighbour, Burma, China has taken no steps towards improving internet freedoms, indeed, with the impending once-in-a-decade leadership transition this year, restrictions have actually gotten worse. According to Freedom House, there have been “significant” improvements in Burma, which has seen its score leap to 75 in this year’s list from 88 in 2011 (higher score = less free). China meanwhile has seen its score increase to 85, a decline of two points since 2011. The Chinese internet ranks as the least free in Asia, behind Pakistan, Burma, and Vietnam (the Philippines were the most free, with a score of 23).
The report was not entirely negative however, praising the ingenuity of Chinese netizens in avoiding their country’s censors:
[Due] to the egalitarian nature and technical flexibility of the internet, the online environment remains freer and Chinese citizens more empowered than what is possible in the traditional media sector. Although Twitter remains blocked in China, a growing number of Chinese users are circumventing censorship to reach it and other restricted sites. Meanwhile domestic microblogging services like Sina Weibo have grown rapidly, surpassing 300 million users by early 2012. Their influence as a source of news and an outlet for public opinion has correspondingly grown. Microblogs’ speed of transmission and other censorship loopholes enabled netizens to outpace censors, draw attention to incipient scandals, and mount online campaigns on various topics.
Freedom House cites the treatment of Ai Weiwei as one example of Chinese internet censorship:
After his release, the authorities launched a formal prosecution on tax evasion charges, which were widely perceived as trumped up. Ai and others reported being forced to sign statements promising not to be active on Twitter as a condition for their release. This generated an eerie online silence for several months, but by year’s end many were defying the authorities and had resumed posting to social media.
The report also highlights actions by the Chinese government against overseas websites critical of the CCP:
The Chinese government has vigorously denied any involvement in these [cyber attacks]. Such denials were undermined by archive footage aired on a state-run television program in July 2011, which included a demonstration of software designed by the Chinese military being used to carry out an attack on a Falun Gong-related website in the United States. Similarly, in October 2011, the Financial Times reported that many of the 500 employees of Nanhao Group, a technology company based outside Beijing, are part of a militia unit organized by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to specialize in cyberattacks and cyber defense.
Read the report in full here (pdf).