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Dozens of outspoken, popular blogs shut in China

July 20, 2010

By CARA ANNA
The Associated Press (AP)
July 19, 2010

BEIJING -- Dozens of blogs by some of China's
most outspoken users have been abruptly shut down
while popular Twitter-like services appear to be
the newest target in government efforts to control social networking.

More and more Chinese bloggers are using the
newer microblogs as their primary publishing
tool, using their brief, punchy message format to
chat with one another and promote their longer
blog posts. But one of the country's top four
microblog sites is now down for maintenance, and
the other three show a "beta" tag as if they are
in testing, though they have been operating for
months. The companies that run the websites aren't saying why.

"I was writing a new post and suddenly my blog
couldn't open," lawyer Pu Zhiqiang told The
Associated Press. Legal expert Xu Zhiyong said
his blog on the popular Sohu Inc. portal was also
shut down Wednesday, a day after his Sohu
microblog was closed. Both men are well-known for taking on sensitive issues.

Chinese officials fear that public opinion might
spiral out of control as social networking -- and
social unrest — boom among its 420 million
Internet users. China maintains the world's most
extensive Internet monitoring and filtering
system, and it unplugged Twitter and Facebook last year.

Blogger Yao Yuan listed at least 61 closed Sohu
blogs, including his own, on a separate,
unblocked blog Thursday. He called the closings mass murder.

"If Internet users don't speak out, all sites
will be cracked down on in the future," said Yao,
who owns an Internet-promotion company in
Shanghai. "Ordinary people will forever lose
their freedom to speak online, and the government
can rest without worrying anymore."

Microblogs can quickly aggregate critical voices,
which is why authorities have been increasing
controls, said Xiao Qiang, director of the China
Internet Project at the University of California-Berkeley.

"However, given the speed and volume of
microblogging content produced in Chinese
cyberspace, censors are still several steps
behind at this stage," he said in an e-mail.

China's government actually embraced microblogs
earlier this year, with the Communist Party
newspaper, the People's Daily, launching a microblog of its own.

The People's Daily microblog showed no sign
Thursday of new restrictions. Meanwhile,
Beijing's public security bureau announced it
would set up a microblog for the city's police,
the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday.

But in April, a leading Internet regulator called
for requirements that people use their real names when going online.

"As long as our country's Internet is linked to
the global Internet, there will be channels and
means for all sorts of harmful foreign
information to appear on our domestic Internet,"
Wang Chen, director of the State Council
Information Office, said in comments released
this week by the New York-based group Human
Rights in China. "Many weak links still exist in
our work. These problems have weakened our
ability to manage the Internet scientifically and effectively."

Privately run microblogs are showing signs of
feeling pinched. The Netease.com Inc. microblog
is down for maintenance, while the Sina Corp.,
Sohu and Tencent microblogs display a beta tag.

Sina president Chen Tong responded Wednesday
night to speculation that the site could be shut
down. "Of course not," he said on the site's
microblog. "I've said that sentence more than any other one today."

Government officials could not be reached for comment.

Despite Beijing's extensive restrictions,
technologically savvy users can still jump
China's "Great Firewall" with proxy servers or
other alternatives. And they can just keep
publishing. Pu, the lawyer, said he has already
set up a new Sohu blog — his 13th so far.

Associated Press researcher Xi Yue in Beijing contributed to this report.
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