Last year, the Web site of Reporters Sans Frontieres was blocked shortly after the group issued a statement criticizing the imprisonment of Chinese dissident Liu Di. Yet while in China, I was able to visit the sites of other organizations that support press freedom, including pages discussing the government's Internet censorship.
Similarly, the Web sites of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House appeared to be blocked, although their pages were listed in Google results. At the same time, numerous less conspicuous critics, including blogs operated by people in China, were accessible.
Google itself was at one time blocked, but I used it extensively in China, where it's available in Chinese as well as English. Then again, I had trouble with certain searches. I could never get results for "Falun Gong," the banned religious group, even when searches on less sensitive topics worked fine.
This sort of censorship (assuming that's what it was) is more insidious than simply blocking a Web site. Even so, a Chinese Web-surfer could still get information about Falun Gong from one of the many news and commentary sites that have not met the hazy criteria for blocking.
The strange, half-free condition of Chinese Internet-users was reflected in the response to D.H.'s China Daily letter. The comments included several supporting greater freedom and one saying the BBC and Time sites should be blocked, given these news outlets' "extreme right wing views."
But the most interesting comment came from D.H. himself, who warned that his letter as published did not accurately reflect his views. "I wrote an article praising less censorship in China," he said, "and it got censored. I hereby retract my praise."
Whether because China's censors are sloppy or because they want to feign openness, D.H.'s complaint is still available online, even in China.
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