Dec 022003
Authors: Meg Burd

As the “Stainless Steel Mouse” was released from jail in China

last Sunday, Internet censorship and original arrest of “Mouse” and

other “cyberdissidents” became a visible issue yet again.

Accused of posting Internet articles criticizing the government,

“Mouse” (the nickname of Chinese college student Liu Di) was jailed

due to the Chinese government’s “concern about political speech on

the Internet” and its forceful attempt to “monitor political speech

aggressively and block particular Web sites, particularly those

that deal with taboo subjects like the banned Falun Gong spiritual

movement,” according to the New York Times. Posting about Tiananmen

Square and human rights, Liu was seen as a subversive element by

the government and arrested in her dorm room for her Internet


With the Internet becoming a more and more popular forum for

expression around the world, concerns over governments violating

the right of freedom of speech and the right of privacy in cases

such as Liu’s are growing, and indeed are providing a cautionary

lesson for all nations dealing with this newer technology.

As in China, recent arrests of “cyberdissidents” in Vietnam have

caught the attention of human rights activists as well. “In the

recent crackdown…individuals have been arrested for… exchanging

e-mails with contacts in the Vietnamese diaspora, and posting

articles critical of the government,” Amnesty International says of

the situation.

Arrests, such as that of Professor Tran Khue, are usually for

e-mailing pro-democracy literature, or in Tran Khue’s case, writing

about corruption in the government on Internet forums. Besides

restricting the freedom of speech of these activists, the

government of Vietnam is also violating the privacy rights of the

arrested people, with the government “monitoring e-mails, Web

sites, and online forums” according to Amnesty International.

Besides these cases of political dissidents being jailed, there

is the issue of government in China in particular cracking down on

Internet sites they find socially disruptive in any way.

Mu Zimei, a popular advice columnist for a Chinese magazine, had

her Web diary detailing her casual sexual liaisons censored by the

government due to its supposedly offensive material.

“The Mu Zimei phenomenon is another example of the government’s

struggle to keep a grip on social change in China,” says Jim

Yardley of the New York Times. “Her writings have prompted a raging

debate about sex and women on the Internet.”

Challenging long-held views about women and sexuality by writing

details of her numerous encounters with men in her Web log, Mu and

others suggest she was banned because her attitude and the

acceptance of it represents a change in perceptions of women in


With estimates of 10 million visits a day to her online diary,

Mu certainly has captured the interest of the nation and the scorn

of authorities.

While not political restriction, Mu’s censorship is still a hot

button issue in that the government is restricting expressions of

social attitudes that contradict with their own.

In all these cases, be they political dissent or actions

perceived as socially challenging, the fact that authorities are

banning works or imprisoning writers is a troubling issue. A clear

breach of the Johannesburg Principles of 1996, which state “no

restriction on freedom of expression or information on the grounds

of national security may be imposed unless the government can

demonstrate that the restriction… is necessary in a democratic

society to protect the legitimate national security interest,”

these imprisonments and restrictions are disturbing rights


Certainly, these e-mailing dissenters and Mu’s writings on

sexuality cannot be seen as compromising national security.

With the swift growth of the Internet in these nations (in

Vietnam’s case, an explosion of 2.5 million users since 1997)

governments are struggling to know what to do with this new forum.

Censorship and violations of privacy, however, should not be the


With the recent concerns over censorship in America, as well,

(due in part to the passage of the USA PATRIOT ACT) this lesson for

governments overseas should likewise be heeded at home.

Meg is a graduate student studying anthropology. Her column runs

every Wednesday.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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