Beijing protest marks start of battle for internet freedom

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 July, 2009, 12:00am
 

Basking in the sun on the outskirts of Beijing, people in predominantly green, blue and white T-shirts chatted on the grass and danced to the driving music in the background.

It might have been a party, but confrontational slogans such as 'Green Dam F*** off' on the T-shirts were telltale signs that this was more of a protest.

Throughout the day, more than 1,000 people poured into a nearby restaurant in a suburban art district in response to outspoken artist Ai Weiwei's call to boycott the internet yesterday, which was supposed to be the first day that controversial filtering software Green Dam was to be installed in or provided with computers sold on the mainland.

But in an abrupt about-face, authorities announced on Tuesday night that the plan would be postponed indefinitely in response to overwhelming criticism from China's internet users and overseas groups.

Although many deem the postponement a victory by mainland internet users, party/protest-goers said the event was to mark the launch of a long-term battle against the government clampdown on internet freedom rather than a celebration of what they described as a temporary triumph.

'We are gathered here today to resist [the compulsory installation] of Green Dam,' said artist Ma Yongfeng .

The central government has irked many people by intensifying its curbs on internet use - a relatively recent platform for expression in a country not well known for freedom of expression. Beijing has publicly denounced search engine Google for leading users to pornography, blocked popular Twitter and its mainland version Fanfou before the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, and tried to impose Green Dam on computer users. 'This is just the beginning for every internet user to realise their rights in using the internet ... this is a series of things that people can begin to think about [in terms of] what is happening in China,' Ma said.

Ai said he had designed three types of slogans to go with three different colours of T-shirt for yesterday's event. All the three versions contain the English phrase while in one version, the Chinese characters declared: 'Boycotting the internet on July 1.' 'This is an expression of our attitude,' he said.

Many creative participants in the event cut the T-shirts into various shapes to make them more striking and some had shaved their hair to display the word 'F***'.

Ai said: 'Today is a perfect time to do this because it was supposed to be the deadline [of the debut of Green Dam] and the 88th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party.

'We should make some noticeable gesture, for example, boycotting the internet for 24 hours, to make today a festival of fighting for internet freedom.'

And despite the postponement of the Green Dam deadline, he said netizens still faced massive obstacles to internet freedom. 'Today is just a warm-up,' he said. 'We are just beginning.'

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