Press Group Deplores China, Cuba Attacks on Internet Journalists

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - A global press advocacy group is deploring attacks by China, Cuba and The Gambia against independent online journalists who use the Internet to transmit news about their countries to readers around the world.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the latest manifestation of this human rights abuse is the two-year prison sentence given October 25 to Internet writer Li Jianping of China, more than six months after the Chinese government tried him on charges of "inciting subversion of state authority."

CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in an October 26 statement that "Li Jianping has already been jailed for too long on the gossamer reasoning that his online criticism of national leaders constitutes a threat to the state.  It seems that as long as the country's print and broadcast media are prevented from performing their function as a watchdog of the national government, independent writers will continue to be at risk of jail when they turn to banned Web sites as an outlet."

The CPJ said administrative control over the media in China ensures that criticism of national leaders or the Chinese Communist Party remains off-limits in print, broadcast and online news outlets.

The CPJ said governments in such countries as Cuba severely restrict their citizens from access to Internet outlets.  But the Cuban Internet site, CubaNet, for example, has provided Cuban journalists with "unprecedented global reach," said the CPJ.

In 2003, the CPJ said, Cuban authorities cracked down on Cuban journalists who used telephones, fax machines and occasional Internet connections to send local news and commentary to Web sites in the United States and Spain.  Some 23 of the 24 journalists now jailed in Cuba were contributors to U.S. or European Web sites, said the CPJ.

Another global press advocacy group, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, has put both China and Cuba on its list of 15 countries that are "enemies” of the Internet.  (See related article.)

The CPJ also reported that in The Gambia, authorities arrested more than 12 people for supposedly being associated with the online Freedom Newspaper, which operates legally in the United States.  That newspaper is known for criticizing Gambian President Yahya Jammeh and his ruling party, said the CPJ.

Global law offers "scant protection" to the online press when national standards come in conflict, CPJ said.

To discuss issues related to Internet freedom, the inaugural Internet Governance Forum is being held October 30-November 2 in Athens, Greece.  Held under the auspices of the United Nations, the forum is examining freedom of expression, free flow of information, access to knowledge, computer viruses, protecting Internet users from spam (junk mail), phishing (tricking someone into giving out confidential information) and Internet privacy.

Among the U.S. officials at the Athens conference is David Gross, the State Department's coordinator for international communications and information policy in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

The United States has been in the forefront in opposing governments around the world that seek to repress dissent on the Internet.  One such State Department initiative, called the Global Internet Freedom Task Force, is considering the foreign policy aspects of Internet freedom, including the use of technology to track and repress dissidents, and to restrict access to political content. (See related article.)

Announced February 14 by State Department senior officials Paula Dobriansky and Josette Shiner, the task force will ensure that U.S. concerns about Internet restrictions are addressed with governments and international organizations worldwide.

Shiner, under secretary for economic, business and agricultural affairs, said when the task force was announced that the Internet has proven to be a "force multiplier for freedom and a censor's nightmare, as efforts by repressive regimes have failed to fully restrict or block growth and access to the Internet."

Nevertheless, she said, "there are severe challenges to this openness," and "it's a top priority for the State Department and the U.S. government to do all we can to ensure maximum access to information over the Internet and to ensure minimum success by censors to information or [those who attempt to] silence legitimate debate in this global town hall."

Dobriansky, under secretary for democracy and global affairs, said in February: "Free information empowers people and literally transforms nations.  The Internet, especially, can be a liberating force.  Topics once politically taboo can become freely discussed and people can communicate anonymously.  We must ensure it does not become a tool of repression."  (See related article.)

The CPJ statement on China Internet restrictions is available on the organization’s Web site.

For more information, see, Internet Freedom.

More information on the Internet Governance Forum is available on a Web site for the meeting.