China Denies Internet Controls Lead to Arrests

Chinese people can freely access the Internet and the government has never arrested anyone for expressing an opinion on the Web, an official state newspaper said on Wednesday. Chinese regulations were also in line with international practices and no different from rules in other countries like the United States which seek to block sites with harmful content, the China Daily said, quoting a senior Internet watchdog official.

"No one in China has been arrested simply because he or she said something on the Internet," Liu Zhengrong, vice head of the Internet Affairs Bureau of the State Council Information Office, was quoted as saying.

Several U.S. tech companies that operate in China have faced criticism in recent months for helping China enforce censorship laws and track down government critics who communicate online.

Microsoft Corp. pulled the Web log, or blog, of a critic of the Chinese government after getting a government order to do so, and Yahoo Inc. has been criticized for helping Chinese authorities link journalist Shi Tao to a U.S.-based Web site, leading to a 10-year prison sentence for Shi.

Liu defended China's record.

"After studying Internet legislation in the West, I've found we basically have identical legislative objectives and principles," he said.

"Companies, including Internet firms, that provide services in China must observe Chinese statutes," he added. "Global companies should know how to provide lawful services ... It is their own business when it comes to specific methods and approaches."

Liu said China blocked only "a very few" foreign sites which have pornographic or terrorist-linked content, or have other information that is in violation of Chinese law.

Google Inc.'s Chinese search engine, for example, blocks many terms associated with topics related to democracy or independence for Tibet, part of China, and Taiwan, a self-ruled island which China considers its own.

China encouraged people to report Web sites that contain "harmful information," Liu said, just as in countries such as Britain.

The government had imposed "lenient" penalties on sites that carry harmful or illegal information, and no Web sites had been shut down for abusing those rules, he added.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it had set up a task force to help U.S. technology companies protect freedom of expression in countries like China that censor online content.

But some U.S. sites, like those of Yahoo, also imposed controls on what can be said online, Liu said.

"It is unfair and smacks of double standards when (they) criticize China for deleting illegal and harmful messages while it is legal for U.S. Web sites (to do so)," he said.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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