The Chinese government Ministry of Information Industry (MII) has announced that all websites — including blogs, forums and chat rooms — located within its borders have to register with the government by June 30 or be shut down. Commercial sites face fines of up to one million yuan ($120,000) if they do not comply.
The decree was issued on March 20 with the intention of controlling information that might “endanger the country.” The Ministry announcement also said, “The Internet has profited many people but it also has brought many problems, such as sex, violence and feudal superstitions and other harmful information that has seriously poisoned people’s spirits,” in explaining the requirement. The Ministry claims 74% of Chinese sites have thus far complied with the dictate.
International media watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders, expresses alarm that, “Those who continue to publish under their real names on sites hosted in China will either have to avoid political subjects or just relay the Communist Party’s propaganda. This decision will enable those in power to control online news and information much more effectively.”
“The Chinese authorities use this type of announcement above all to intimidate website operators and bloggers,” writes RWB. “The authorities also hope to push the most outspoken online sites to migrate abroad where they will become inaccessible to those inside China because of the Chinese filtering systems.”
RWB also expresses concern that the communist Chinese government has a new system for monitoring sites in real time and spotting those that fail to comply. The “Night Crawler” (Pa Chong, in Chinese) system can reportedly locate and block unregistered sites and will be implemented in early June.
In May, many Chinese bloggers received e-mail messages telling them to register to avoid being declared illegal and shut down. A China-based blogger told Reporters Without Borders that the Shanghai police recently “rendered his website inaccessible” because it had not been registered. When he phoned MII to ask what he had to do in order to register, he says he was told that in his case it was “not worth bothering” because “there was no chance of an independent blog getting permission to publish.”
China has the world’s second largest Internet population (behind the United States) with more than 87 million users and over 300,000 blogs; it also the world’s largest jailer of cyber dissidents, having detained more than 60 people for expressing “dangerous” views online.