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China Again Tightens Control of Online News and Information


China has imposed new rules on computer Web sites, tightening government control of online news and information, in the latest effort to limit what Chinese citizens can read on the Internet.

The new Internet regulations say China's news Web sites must provide information beneficial to the public and state, and are prohibited from spreading information against China's national security and public interest.

The announcement, made Sunday by China's official Xinhua News Agency, gave no further explanation of the new rules, nor what punishments could be faced by those who violate them.

But the Beijing News reported that the new rules were targeted at those inciting illegal protests, gatherings and organizations online. The Beijing daily said violators would have to pay fines ranging from $1,237.

Internet freedom advocates say the government is concerned that new communications technologies, such as the Internet, may be used to organize demonstrations against the government.

Julien Pain, who is in charge of the Internet Freedom Desk at the Paris-based organization, Reporters Without Borders, says the new rules are a scare tactic to discourage political dissent online.

"It is a climate of social instability at this time in China. Many people are protesting every day," he said. "And, I think the Chinese [government] just want to tell them that, whether it is online or off-line, you should not protest."

Social unrest in China has increased in recent years, with tens-of-thousands of protests occurring annually. The protests are political, economic, religious and social.

The number of Internet users in China has also increased to more than 100 million.

This latest campaign follows rules issued earlier this year, forcing participants in online chatrooms and Internet users with online diaries - so-called "blogs" - to use their real names online. The government also restricted university chat rooms to students only.

China already has one of the most sophisticated systems in the world for censoring online content. Beijing employs Internet police, and uses high-tech equipment to block content the government considers immoral, such as pornography or politically sensitive, such as discussions of democracy, or the island of Taiwan.

Among those blocked is the Voice of America web site.

Internet dissidents who question or criticize government policy are routinely arrested and charged with violating state security laws.

Last week, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said China sentenced an Internet journalist to seven years in prison for publishing articles online criticizing the Communist Party.

Internet freedom advocates say the new information restrictions will not have much effect on China's well-known news Web sites, which are registered, and closely watched by the government. But small publishers and freelance journalists will now have to register as news organizations, or face fines.

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