The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, although the government generally did not respect these rights in practice. The government interpreted the CCP's "leading role," as mandated in the constitution, as superseding and circumscribing these rights. The government continued to control print, broadcast, and electronic media tightly and used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. During the year the government increased censorship and manipulation of the press and the Internet during major events, including the Tibetan protests in March through June, the May 12 Sichuan earthquake, and the Olympic games. All media were expected to abide by censorship guidelines issued by the party. In a June 20 speech on propaganda work, CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao reiterated local media's subordinate role to the party, telling journalists they must "serve socialism" and the party.
Media outlets received regular guidance from the Central Propaganda Department, which listed topics that should not be covered, including politically sensitive topics. During the year propaganda officials issued guidelines restricting media coverage of sensitive topics, including demonstrations by parents whose children died in the May 12 Sichuan earthquake when their schools collapsed. On August 12, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that propaganda authorities had issued a 21-point directive outlining how the domestic media should handle certain stories during the Olympics. According to the directive, Chinese journalists were barred from reporting on the lifting of censorship of foreign Web sites during the Olympics, the private lives of visiting heads of state, and Tibetan and Uighur separatist movements, among other topics. The directive also ordered journalists to report positively on Olympic security arrangements.
So long as the speaker did not publish views that challenged the CCP or disseminate such views to overseas audiences, the range of permissible topics for private speech continued to expand. Political topics could be discussed privately and in small groups without punishment, and criticisms of the government were common topics of daily speech. However, public speeches, academic discussions, and speeches at meetings or in public forums covered by the media remained circumscribed, as did speeches pertaining to sensitive social topics.
The government also frequently monitored gatherings of intellectuals, scholars, and dissidents where political or sensitive issues were discussed. Those who aired views that disagreed with the government's position on controversial topics or disseminated such views to domestic and overseas audiences risked punishment ranging from disciplinary action at government work units to police interrogation and detention. To commemorate human rights day on December 10, a group of 303 intellectuals and activists released a petition calling for human rights and democracy. Security forces questioned or detained several signatories to the document. At year's end one signer, writer Liu Xiaobo, remained in detention. On May 21, police in Liaoning Province detained Shenyang resident Gao Qianhui a day after she posted a YouTube video criticizing the lack of entertainment during the national period of mourning for Sichuan earthquake victims.
The Central Propaganda Department continued to list subjects that were off limits to the domestic media, and the government maintained authority to approve all programming. Nearly all print media, broadcast media, and book publishers were owned by, or affiliated with, the CCP or a government agency. There were a small number of privately owned print publications, but no privately owned television or radio stations. International media were not allowed to operate freely and faced heavy restrictions.
In October the government permanently adopted the Olympics-related temporary regulations that expanded press freedoms for foreign media. In a September 17 statement, the Foreign Correspondent's Club of China (FCCC) noted some improvements in government transparency, including the release of more official data, especially on environmental matters, and increased access to government officials. However, the FCCC also reported that local authorities continued to infringe upon the freedom of foreign journalists to travel and conduct interviews, and that during the year harassment of foreign journalists rose sharply, particularly in the weeks before and during the Olympics. Between July 25, when the Olympics media center opened, and August 23, the day before the Olympics closing ceremony, the FCCC reported 30 cases of "reporting interference." On July 22, police manhandled Hong Kong journalists who were covering a crowd attempting to purchase Olympic tickets. In Kashgar, XUAR police detained and beat two Japanese journalists attempting to cover the aftermath of an August 4 deadly attack on a People's Armed Police unit. From August 8 to 11, a foreign writer and photographer and a foreign photojournalist were detained and searched repeatedly while attempting to cover bombings in the Xinjiang Province. On August 13, Beijing police roughed up and detained a journalist for Independent Television News who was covering a Tibet-related protest near the Olympic village. Foreign correspondents were still unable to visit the TAR without official permits, which rarely were granted.
Between January 1 and December 2, the FCCC reported 178 incidents of harassment compared with 160 cases for all of 2007. On January 24, thugs in Shandong Province threw stones at a German television crew attempting to meet with Yuan Weijing, the wife of imprisoned rights activist Chen Guangcheng. In November thugs beat a Belgian television crew attempting to cover the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Henan Province. The thugs also robbed the crew of its tapes, camera memory card, mobile phones, and money.
After protests and rioting broke out in Tibetan areas in March, more than two dozen foreign reporters were turned away from or forced to leave Tibetan areas, including Lhasa, Tibet's regional capital, and Xiahe in Gansu Province. Also in Xiahe, authorities barred a foreign film crew from using e-mail and ordered the crew not to report on the police in riot gear and soldiers they saw headed toward Labrang Monastery. Several other reporting teams were turned away from Tibetan areas during this period, including a foreign television crew, which was told that foreigners were not allowed into the area due to concerns for their safety. In the weeks after the riots, several Beijing-based foreign correspondents received death threats after their personal contact information, including mobile phone numbers, was revealed on the Internet.
In May police in Henan Province detained two Finnish journalists for seven hours while preparing a report on a migrant worker who had been employed on an Olympics-related construction site in Beijing.
In the immediate aftermath of the May 12 Sichuan earthquake, authorities generally allowed foreign reporters access to the disaster areas, although the FCCC reported some incidents of local authorities detaining journalists and confiscating photos and videos. However, this access was sharply curtailed by June when parents of children who had died in collapsed school buildings began organizing protests. The FCCC reported ten incidents of harassment and intimidation of foreign reporters attempting to report on the school collapses.
Officials can be punished for unauthorized contact with journalists. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Li Fuguo, a municipal official in Fuyang, Anhui Province, died in prison in March. RSF reported that Li was arrested in August 2007 after speaking with a journalist about an illegal requisition of farm land. Prison officials, RSF reported, claimed Li took his own life.
In December the Committee to Protect Journalists documented the cases of 28 imprisoned journalists. Editors and journalists continued to practice self-censorship as the primary means for the party to limit freedom of the press on a day-to-day basis. Official guidance on permitted speech was often vague, subject to change at the whim of propaganda officials, and retroactively enforced. Propaganda authorities can force newspapers to fire editors and journalists who print articles that conflict with official views and can suspend or close publications. The system of post-publication punishment encourages editors to take a conservative approach since a publication could face enormous business losses if it were suspended for inadvertently printing forbidden content. In September authorities ordered the China Business Post to suspend publication for three months as punishment for publication of an article critical of the Agricultural Bank of China.
Government officials used criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, and other punishments, including violence, detention, and other forms of harassment, to intimidate authors and domestic journalists and block controversial writings. On January 4, officials in Xifeng, Liaoning Province, dispatched police to Beijing to arrest Zhu Wenna, a reporter for the magazine Faren Zazhi, on defamation charges after Zhu criticized a local communist party leader in a story about a contested land seizure in Xifeng. Xifeng officials abandoned efforts to arrest Zhu after a public and media outcry. On June 10, police in Chengdu detained Internet writer and activist Huang Qi, director and cofounder of the Tianwang Human Rights Center in Chengdu, after he posted an article on his Web site criticizing the government's handling of the May 12 earthquake. On August 8, a reporter for the Chengdu newspaper, Peng Shijun, was reportedly beaten by thugs and hospitalized while reporting on alleged false advertising by a language translation school in Xian, Shaanxi Province.
A domestic journalist can face demotion or job loss for publishing views that challenge the government. In April journalist Zhang Ping (who writes under the name Chang Ping) was demoted from his job as deputy editor of Nandu Weekly after publishing an article on his blog critical of official censorship surrounding the outbreak of protests in Tibet. In August Mehbube Ablesh, a Uighur writer, poet, and employee of Xinjiang People's Radio, was fired from her post and detained by police after posting articles online that criticized the central government and provincial leaders.
Journalists who remained in prison included Lu Gengsong, Lu Jianhua, Huang Jinqiu, Yu Huafeng, Li Minying, Cheng Yizhong, and Shi Tao. In February Ching Cheong, who had been imprisoned since 2005 on espionage charges, was released unexpectedly. During the year, Li Changqing, former deputy news director of the Fuzhou Ribao, was released after serving his two-year sentence in prison. However, authorities refused to issue Li Changqing a passport, preventing him from traveling overseas to receive the World Association of Newspapers' Gold Pen prize. Authorities stopped Li's wife, Bao Dingling, at Beijing's airport when she attempted to attend the June 2 award ceremony on her husband's behalf.
During the year journalists and editors who exposed corruption scandals frequently faced problems with the authorities. On May 16, police in Heilongjiang Province reportedly detained Ren Shangyan, assistant director of the corruption-monitoring Web site China Justice Advocacy Web (Zhonghua Shenzheng Wang), for her reporting on national and local corruption cases. Newspapers and journalists who reported on corruption without government or party approval faced possible sanction, although authorities allowed reporting on some high-profile cases. On May 13, Qi Chonghuai, a journalist in Shandong Province, was convicted of "extortion and blackmail" and sentenced to four years in prison. Qi was arrested in June 2007 after he and a friend published an article on the Xinhuanet Web site alleging official corruption in the Tengzhou Communist Party. The coauthor of the article, photographer Ma Shiping, remained in jail at year's end. On May 13, He Yanjie, who was working as Qi's research assistant, was sentenced to two years in prison.
According to an official report, during the year authorities confiscated more than 83 million copies of "pornographic, pirated, and unauthorized publications." Some copies of the July 24 edition of the Beijing News were removed from newsstands after the paper printed a photo related to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. The paper also removed the related story from its Web site.
Officials continued to censor, ban, and sanction reporting on labor, health, environmental crises, and industrial accidents. Official censorship, including strict media controls surrounding the Beijing Olympic Games, prevented timely reporting by Chinese journalists of the discovery of dairy products tainted with the chemical melamine. Authorities later restricted reporting on efforts by parents of children harmed by the tainted products to seek redress through the court system.
By law only government-approved publishing houses were permitted to print books. The State Press and Publications Administration (PPA) controlled all licenses to publish. No newspaper, periodical, book, audio, video, or electronic publication may be printed or distributed without the PPA and relevant provincial publishing authorities' approval of both the printer and distributor. Individuals who attempted to publish without government approval faced imprisonment, fines, confiscation of their books, and other sanctions. The CCP exerted control over the publishing industry by preemptively classifying certain topics as off-limits.
During a nationwide teleconference on January 17, party propaganda department head Liu Yunshan ordered officials to step up the campaign against "illegal publications," a term that includes pornography and pirated material, but also any content deemed politically subversive.
Many intellectuals and scholars exercised self-censorship, anticipating that books or papers on political topics would be deemed too sensitive to be published. The censorship process for private and government media also increasingly relied on self-censorship and, in a few cases, post-publication sanctions.
At year's end Korash Huseyin, the former editor of the Uighur-language Kashgar Literature Journal, remained in an undisclosed prison. In late 2004 Huseyin was sentenced to three years for publishing Nurmuhemmet Yasin's short story "Wild Pigeon," which authorities considered critical of CCP rule of Xinjiang. Yasin remained in prison serving a 10-year sentence. Authorities continued to ban books with content they deemed controversial.
The authorities continued to jam, with varying degrees of success, Chinese-, Uighur-, and Tibetan-language broadcasts of the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the BBC. English-language broadcasts on VOA generally were not jammed. Government jamming of RFA and BBC appeared to be more frequent and effective. Internet distribution of "streaming radio" news and "podcasts" from these sources often was blocked. Despite jamming overseas broadcasts, VOA, BBC, RFA, Deutsche Welle, and Radio France International had large audiences, including human rights advocates, ordinary citizens, and government officials.
Television broadcasts of foreign news, which were largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were occasionally subject to censorship. According to an October 18 report by the communication news Web site c114.net, in the first half of the year authorities confiscated more than 110,000 private satellite dishes and closed over 2,000 vendors of illegal satellite equipment. In the days following the outbreak of the March 14 riots in Lhasa and protests in other Tibetan communities, authorities cut off satellite feeds from the BBC World News and CNN when the stations aired reports about Tibet. Such censorship of foreign broadcasts also occurred around the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines were occasionally banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive. Authorities banned the May issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, reportedly because of an article headlined, "Beijing Embraces Classical Fascism."
Politically sensitive coverage in Chinese, and to a lesser extent in English, was censored more than coverage in other languages. The government prohibited some foreign and domestic films deemed too sensitive.
During the year the China Internet Network Information Center reported that the number of Internet users increased to 298 million, 91 percent of whom had broadband access. The government took steps to monitor Internet use, control content, restrict information, and punish those who violated regulations, but these measures were not universally effective. A large number of Internet users used proxy servers to access banned content. During the year political dissidents successfully used Internet instant-messaging technology to hold large-scale, virtual meetings.
The MPS, which monitors the Internet under guidance from the Central Propaganda Department, employed thousands of persons at the national, provincial, and local levels to monitor electronic communications. Xinhua News Agency reported that during the year authorities closed 14,000 illegal Web sites and deleted more than 490,000 items of "harmful" content from the Internet. In 2007 authorities reported closing 62,600 illegal Web sites as part of a nationwide crackdown on "illegal and pornographic" publications. Many Web sites included images of cartoon police officers that warn users to stay away from forbidden content. Operators of Web portals, blog hosting services, and other content providers engaged in self-censorship to ensure their servers were free from politically sensitive content.
Individuals using the Internet in public libraries were required to register using their national identity card. Internet usage reportedly was monitored at all terminals in public libraries. Internet cafes were required to install software that allows government officials to monitor customers' Internet usage. Internet users at cafes were often subject to surveillance. Many cafes sporadically enforced regulations requiring patrons to provide identification.
The government consistently blocked access to Web sites it deemed controversial, especially those discussing Taiwanese and Tibetan independence, underground religious and spiritual organizations, democracy activists, and the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. The government also at times blocked access to selected sites operated by major foreign news outlets, health organizations, foreign governments, and educational institutions. During the year, particularly during the outbreak of unrest in Tibet and the run-up to the Olympic Games, authorities maintained tight control over Internet news and information. Computers set up at the Olympic press center were subject to censorship, and journalists complained that they were unable to visit some overseas Web sites. Following complaints by foreign reporters, many normally blocked Web sites were temporarily available during the games. During the Olympics, authorities temporarily blocked iTunes, reportedly because officials were concerned that Olympic athletes were downloading pro-Tibet songs.
Authorities employed an array of technical measures to block sensitive Web sites based in foreign countries. The ability of users to access sensitive foreign Web sites varied from city to city. Internet police were also able to automatically censor e-mail and web chats based on an ever-changing list of sensitive key words, such as "Falun Gong" and "Tibetan independence." While such censorship was effective in keeping casual users away from sensitive content, it was defeated easily through the use of various technologies. Software for defeating official censorship was readily available inside the country. Despite official monitoring and censorship, during the year some dissidents continued to use voice-over-Internet and instant messaging software, such as Skype, to conduct online meetings and events.
Given the limitations of technical censorship, self-censorship by Internet companies remained the primary means for authorities to restrict speech online. All Web sites are required to be licensed by, or registered with, the Ministry of Information Industry and all Internet content providers inside the country faced the potential suspension of their licenses for failing to adequately monitor users of e-mail, chat rooms, and instant messaging services. The Internet Society of China, a group composed of private and state-run Internet companies, government offices, and academic institutions, cosponsored a Web site, China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Centre (ciirc.china.cn), which invited members of the public to report illegal online activity. Users were able to use the site to report crimes such as pornography, fraud and gambling, but also "attacks on the party and government." Self-censorship by blog-hosting services intensified in the weeks before and during the Olympic Games.
An October report by the OpenNet Initiative Asia and the Information Warfare Monitor revealed that TOM-Skype, a Chinese version of the Skype Internet communication software, was logging and saving user messages on to TOM-Skype servers based on the presence of sensitive key words, such as "Communist Party," "Falun Gong," and "Taiwan independence." In response to the report, Skype President Josh Silverman stated that while Skype's Chinese partner, TOM Online, monitored and blocked certain messages in accordance with Chinese law, the logging and storage of such messages was conducted without Skype's knowledge.
In January provisions went into effect reiterating licensing requirements for audio- and video-hosting Web sites, requiring them to be state owned or state controlled. In March the government reported the results of the two-month crackdown on audio and video, as well as online map and geographical information Web sites, reporting that it shut down 25 video Web sites and warned 32 others for, among other things, failing to have the proper license or "endangering the security and interest of the state." The government also reported that most of the 10,000 Web sites that provided online maps did so without approval and were subject to closure. In April the government began a year-long campaign to remove "illegal" maps from the Internet, including those that label Taiwan as a country or fail to note the government's territorial claims in the South China Seas, the Diaoyu Island, and the Chiwei Islands.
During the year authorities continued to jail numerous Internet writers for peaceful expression of political views. For example on June 5, authorities in Shanghai detained Feng Zhenghu, a rights defender, online writer, and freelance journalist, on suspicion of "intentionally disturbing public order." The charges came after Feng published and distributed a list of wrongful convictions handed down by Shanghai courts, along with other writings. Feng was released June 15. On June 27, Sun Lin, a reporter for the foreign-based Web site Boxun, was sentenced to four years in prison for creating social unrest. Sun and his wife He Fang were arrested in May 2007 after Sun wrote articles on sensitive subjects, including crime and police brutality. He Fang was also charged and given a suspended sentence. In July Internet writer Du Daobin was rearrested and ordered to serve the remaining two years of a previously suspended sentence for "inciting subversion of state power." On July 5, Shanghai PSB officers traveled to Suzhou to arrest 23-year-old blogger Jia Xiaoyin, who later was charged with libel for "spreading rumors" that Yang Jia's killing of six Shanghai police officers July 1 was "justifiable homicide" because police allegedly had tortured Yang (see section 1.a). Jia's parents were not notified of his arrest until mid-October. At year's end he was awaiting trial. In May Chen Daojun, an Internet writer and environmental activist based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province was arrested, and on November 21 he was sentenced to three years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power." Chen was arrested after he participated in an environmental protest and posted articles online supportive of Tibetan demonstrators. According to Chen's lawyer, three of his articles were submitted as evidence that he had attacked the CCP.
According to the PEN American Center, persons who remained in prison as a result of their online writings and activities included: Zhu Yufu (who was sentenced to two additional years in prison), Guo Qizhen, Jin Haike, Kong Youping, Li Zhi, Lu Zengqi, Ning Xianhua, Tao Haidong, Wu Yilong, Xu Wei, Yan Zhengxue, Yang Tongyan, Yang Zili, Yuan Qiuyan, Zeng Hongling, Zhang Jianhong (aka "Li Hong"), Zhang Honghai, Zhang Lin, and Zheng Yichun.
Regulations prohibit a broad range of activities that authorities interpret as subversive or slanderous to the state. Internet Service Providers were instructed to use only domestic media news postings, to record information useful for tracking users and their viewing habits, to install software capable of copying e-mails, and to end immediately transmission of so-called subversive material.