It is well known that China polices the Internet content that its citizens can access. The story below talks about a growing movement within China that seeks to challenge these arbitrary restrictions on simple information retrieval and publishing actions. A 17-year old girl’s comment “I don’t know if it’s better to speak out or keep silent, but if everyone keeps silent, the truth will be buried,” seems particularly powerful to me and motivated me to write this post.
Several months ago, the government of Sri Lanka blocked access to Tamil Net, a website used by many, including almost all the important journalists, to find out the other side of our one-sided news stories on the war. Of course, this was easily circumvented by those who wanted to. But I now regret that I did not speak out against it at that time. When the government shut down phone networks in the North and the East, I posted the facts, but did not explicitly protest. Few others did.
The lack of strong opposition to their censorious actions has now led the government to take another step: to shut down SMS use on Independence morning. Censorship is coming close to home.
Mobile or fixed phones (the million plus CDMA phones can also for this while people are moving around) can be used to convey messages and coordinate actions. So can SMS. If the government believes that SMS poses a security threat, it should come out and tell us exactly what that threat is, before shutting down a service we have paid for and are entitled to use.
The Telecommunications Act lays down specific provisions for these kinds of actions. I want to know whether these lawful provisions were followed. Were these provisions followed when the phone networks were shut down for long periods in the North and the East?
If not, the actions taken last night to shut down SMS were unlawful. The shutting down of the phone networks in the North and East were illegal. I believe that it is necessary to protest these unlawful and arbitrary actions if we are to prevent the extension of the Great Firewall to this country as well. Otherwise we will not end up like China; our fate will be that of Burma.
In almost every instance, the resistance has been fired by the surprise and indignation when people bumped up against a system that they had only vaguely suspected existed. “I had had an impression that some kind of mechanism controls the Internet in China, but I had no idea about the Great Firewall,” said Pan Liang, a writer of children’s literature and a Web site operator who first learned the extent of the controls after a friend’s blog was blocked. “I was really annoyed at first,” Mr. Pan said. “Then the 17th Party Congress came, and I received an order that my Web site, which is about children’s literature, had to close its message board. It made me even angrier.”Like others, Mr. Pan used his Web page to post solutions for overcoming the restrictions to some banned sites, and then he used a historical allusion to mock his country’s censorship system.
“Many people don’t know that 300 years after Emperor Kangxi ordered an end to construction of the Great Wall, our great republic has built an invisible great wall,” he wrote. “Can blocking really work? Kangxi knew the Great Wall was a huge lie: just think how many soldiers are needed to guard those thousands of miles.”
A 17-year-old blogger from Guangdong Province who posted instructions on how to get to YouTube, overcoming the firewall’s restrictions, was no less philosophical. “I don’t know if it’s better to speak out or keep silent, but if everyone keeps silent, the truth will be buried,” wrote the girl, who uses the online name Ruyue. “I don’t want to be silent, even if everyone else shuts up.”