It is sadly ironic that just days after renewing our call for the free flow of information worldwide, we have learned that Internet users in China are once again running into screen messages saying some of the websites they are looking for cannot be displayed.
VOA Correspondent Stephanie Ho in Beijing reports the blocked sites include those of the Voice of America, in both English and Chinese.
What is regrettable about this is that back in August, the Chinese government bowed to international pressure and halted its interference with our and other sites -- a gesture tied to China's hosting the Olympics.
So why the renewed controls?
Some western analysts say the action is consistent with how Chinese authorities deal with what they perceive as potential political trouble. There is the upcoming 20th anniversary in June of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. China’s economy is also reeling under the impact of the global financial crisis. And just recently a group of dissidents issued a manifesto called "Charter '08" that calls for legal reforms and greater democracy.
Chinese officials are, not surprisingly, defending their latest Internet blocking move. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao insists some websites violate Chinese law. He did not cite any specific cases.
Reporters Without Borders is condemning the renewed censorship by China of websites like VOA’s.
In a statement, the group said: “Right now, the authorities are gradually rolling back all the progress made in the run-up to this summer’s Olympic games, when even foreign websites in Mandarin were made accessible. The pretence of liberalization is now over. The blocking of access to the websites of foreign news media speaks volumes about the government’s intolerance. We urge the authorities to unblock them again.”
So do we. As VOA Director Danforth Austin has noted, “When our broadcast frequencies are jammed or our website is blocked, it is the people in our audiences who suffer the most.”