Amnesty details 33 Chinese arrests over Internet use

In the same week that a Chinese government official acclaimed the growing level of Internet use in his country, human rights...

In the same week that a Chinese government official acclaimed the growing level of Internet use in his country, human rights group Amnesty International issued a report detailing the detainment or imprisonment of 33 people in China in connection with use of the global computer network.

The list is heavy with the names of political activists and dissidents detained or jailed for activities carried out over or in connection with the Internet, including those of four members of the China Democracy Party (CDP) and 14 members of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is outlawed in China.

The 33 cases detailed in the report do not necessarily point to a crack down on activities conducted over the Internet - China arrests activists on a regular basis and in many cases the Internet is not involved - but it does illustrate the watchful eye that the state keeps on the roughly 54 million people that are now said to use the Internet in China.

"It's very difficult to know," said Mark Allison, the Amnesty researcher who wrote the report, when asked how big a part the Internet played in the cases outlined. "They have all been arrested either partly or wholly for Internet use. Quite often on one charge of spreading reactionary material and another charge [for example] of being a member of Falun Gong. They are found in the first place because they have been using the Net and their identities were known."

The longest sentence detailed in the report is a 12-year jail term handed down to Yao Yue, a Beijing graduate student who was tried in December last year for downloading and disseminating material from Falun Gong Web sites, according to Amnesty.

Among the four members of the CDP detailed by Amnesty, the longest sentence was a 10-year jail term handed down to Wang Jinbo, a CDP member in Sichuan province who was charged with subversion last year. Other terms are three-year or four-year sentences for subversion or endangering state security.

Three of the detainees have since died, according to Amnesty, adding that two deaths were reportedly "a result of torture". The third was attributed to leukaemia.

Details of the 33 cases came from domestic and international media reports and from Amnesty's own sources in China.

"They are probably just the tip of the iceberg," said Allison.

All but one of the detentions described in the report took place before 2002. Earlier this year, new regulations came into force obliging Internet service providers to monitor online activities more closely and Internet cafes have recently been told to install monitoring software that blocks certain Web sites, according to the report.

Amnesty also called for the immediate release of all people detained in relation to activities over the Internet.

"Everyone detained purely for peacefully publishing their views or other information on the Internet or for accessing certain Web sites are prisoners of conscience," the group said in a statement issued along with the report. "They should be released immediately and unconditionally."

China's first Internet arrest took place in 1998 when Lin Hai, a software company owner in Shanghai, was arrested for "inciting the overthrow of state power" after he provided 30,000 Chinese e-mail addresses to a US-based human rights and activist group. Lin was sentenced to two years imprisonment in early 1999 but released six months early in 2001.

Read more on Antivirus, firewall and IDS products