China criticised for web practices as first World Internet Conference gets under way

19 Nov 2014

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China has come under fire for its controversial internet policies as the nation hosts a major new web event.

The World Internet Conference, which began today in Wuzhen, has been interpreted as an effort by the Chinese government to increase its influence on global cyberspace rules.

However, Amnesty International has condemned China’s practice of regularly blocking websites and has also pointed to the detainment of hundreds of people who have expressed their views online since President Xi Jinping came to power as suppressing freedom of expression.

“Internet freedom is under attack by governments across the world. Now China appears eager to promote its own domestic internet rules as a model for global regulation,” William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

“This should send a chill down the spine of anyone that values online freedom. China’s internet model is one of extreme control and suppression. The authorities use an army of censors to target individuals and imprison many activists solely for exercising their right to free expression online.”

The Chinese authorities have blocked access to thousands of websites, including news outlet The New York Times and social networks Facebook and Twitter. 

Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong’s central business district recently moved the government to add photo-sharing app Instagram to the list after images of Hong Kong police using tear gas on protesters appeared online.

New censorship

According to Greatfire.org, a group that examines Chinese internet censorship, the government has gone on a further censorship binge just days before the web conference by targeting a network operated by Edgecast, a firm that delivers content and services for web companies. Thousands of websites are now inaccessible to the Chinese public as a result.

The Guardian reported that Edgecast acknowledged the disruptions to its China service: “We have put policies in place to help our customers mitigate the effects of this most recent filtering but expect this to be an ongoing issue for our customers seeking to reach Chinese users.”

In addition to China, Amnesty International pointed to the US and UK governments as having undermined online freedoms with the mass surveillance programmes run by the US National Security Agency and UK General Communications Headquarters.

China censorship image via Shutterstock

Dean is a freelance journalist and editor covering media.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com