More than 100 intellectuals and dissidents have signed a petition condemning China's closure of an Internet site they said was one of the few places for free expression in the country. The Century China site was a popular forum for social and political discussion and for liberal critics of the ruling communist party.
The petition was circulated this week by e-mail and signed by writers, lawyers and human rights activists both in China and abroad.
The statement said in the six years it was in operation, the Century China Web site had made a unique contribution to promoting freedom of speech and political and social liberalization.
The petition called the government's decision to close the website "another instance of the Chinese government suppressing the freedom of its people."
Teng Biao is a lawyer and teacher at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. He says he signed the petition to protest increasing government pressure on freedom of speech and the use of the Internet.
"In their eyes, so-called stability is [having] the same ideas, the same way of doing things," he said. "These things and modern, democratic, and free thought are completely contradictory."
Authorities shut down the China Century site in late July, accusing it of "illegally providing news information and violating Internet regulations."
At least 103 people signed the protest petition, which said the closure not only violated international human rights conventions but also China's own constitution.
China's constitution provides for freedom of expression but a number of laws restrict the exercise of that freedom.
The Chinese government routinely blocks Web sites critical of communist party rule and monitors chat forums and bulletin boards for sensitive content.
Writers have been given lengthy jail sentences for posting comments Beijing considers subversive or information regarded as a state secret.
The government also blocks the Internet sites of foreign news media, including VOA's Web site.
This week's petition said that although the government was able to force the closing of Century China, it will never eliminate the people's desire to discuss ideas openly and freely.