China's Internet censorship getting worse: activist

TOKYO (AFP) — Chinese censorship of the Internet and restrictions on reporting have worsened despite Beijing’s pledge to improve media freedom ahead of the Olympic Games, an activist said Thursday.
China has actually tightened control of the Internet as the Olympics approach, said Zhang Yu, a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, a branch of International PEN, a writers’ association.
“My observation is that during this year the Internet police became much more efficient in terms of surveillance of the Internet activities to suppress freedom of expression,” said Zhang, a Chinese citizen living in Sweden.
The number of arrests and convictions of journalists in China peaked in 2003-2004, but the decline since then is not due to increased freedom, Zhang told a press conference in Tokyo.
Since the Chinese authorities began requiring identification to use Internet cafes, “people are now forced to self-censor their Internet activities,” said Zhang, who is kept informed about the situation in China by fellow activists.
With the Olympic Games approaching, “the suppression is getting much more severe, just in the recent months” after unrest in Tibet, he said.
Reports of greater media freedom in the wake of the recent devastating earthquake in Sichuan province were premature, Zhang said.
“As soon as the Chinese authorities regained their function, they resumed their censorship,” he said.
Foreign and domestic reporters were initially allowed to flock to the disaster zone, but the ruling Communist Party soon restricted access again.
The activist also urged Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to set “conditions” for his attendance at the August 8 opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, such as the release of imprisoned journalists.
Makoto Teranaka, director of Amnesty International Japan, told the same press conference that Fukuda should call on the Chinese government to improve the human rights situation there if he attends the Games.
Fukuda, known for his efforts to reconcile with China, has hinted he plans to attend the opening ceremony, shunning calls by some Western activists for a boycott.

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