Blockade of NGO websites seen as pre-Olympics crackdown

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2008, 12:00am

Internet police have stepped up control over websites run by non-governmental organisations on the mainland - a move some activists fear might signal a nationwide crackdown ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games.

The latest victim is an internet forum called In the Hepatitis B Camp, which is dedicated to self-help and assistance for infectious disease patients that was blocked on the mainland late last month for the second time.

The website - hugely popular among hepatitis B patients on the mainland - was originally shut down last November and reactivated when its organisers moved it to an overseas server.

Lu Jun , chief co-ordinator of the forum, said the site was no longer accessible on the mainland but could be reached from overseas.

He said authorities never gave them an explanation for blocking the site, but he suspected the Olympics was the reason. 'They did it, but they wouldn't admit it,' he said.

Mr Lu said he was considering legal action against the Ministry of Information and Technology, but he has to weigh carefully the consequences of organising public protests against the blockade.

He said although the website was not officially shut down, the blockade was just as effective since mainland users could no longer log on, causing great distress among hepatitis B patients.

'The forum is the place where we hepatitis B patients can share our pain and feelings,' Mr Lu said. 'We are greatly frustrated.'

Although the forum was mainly set up for non-political issues, it also provided information and assistance to hepatitis B patients in filing lawsuits claiming discrimination.

According to Mr Lu, other NGOs on the mainland are facing similar problems.

In March, at least two other NGO websites were shut down by authorities, including the Voice of the Chinese, which is for petitioners, and Love, Knowledge, Action, which is for HIV victims.

'Our website was temporarily closed for more than one hour because we refused to delete a notice about demanding the release of HIV activist Hu Jia ,' Love, Knowledge, Action director Wan Yanhai said yesterday, referring to the jailing of the well-known Aids activist last April.

'But with the warning of the authorities still in effect, our website risks being closed at any time.'

Also shut down was the website of the China Federation for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, which posted an article calling on the Chinese military to send warships to the disputed islands after a Taiwanese fishing boat was sunk by a Japanese coastguard vessel this month.

Tong Zeng , chairman of the China Federation for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, said he understood the rationale for shutting down his site.

'I think there are three reasons for them [the authorities] to shut down our website, including the agreement of co-operation over the East China Sea gas reserves, the sinking of Taiwan's fishing boat in the Diaoyu Islands and the visit of the Japanese warship to Zhanjiang,' Mr Tong said.

'Actually, our website has been closed many times when Sino-Japanese ties become more sensitive. I think it will be reopened soon.'