March 21, 2011 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Cyber-censors turn the screw on Internet users

Google Mail targeted

Google accused the Chinese authorities today of being behind problems with its email service, Gmail. Since the end of February, Chinese users have reported difficulties gaining access to Gmail’s home page and sending e-mails. Google’s instant messaging service is also said to have been having problems.

A Google spokesperson contacted by Reporters Without Borders ruled out technical problems as the source of the problem, blaming instead “a government blockage designed to look like the problem is with Gmail.”

Google reported on its blog on 11 March: “We’ve noticed some highly targeted and apparently politically motivated attacks against our users. We believe activists may have been a specific target.”

This is not the first time Google has complained of this kind of attack. In the beginning of 2010, the US company stopped submitting to government censorship of the Chinese version of its search engine after cyber attacks were launched from China against the Gmail accounts of certain journalists and human rights activists.

When Chinese users click on the home page of, they are now re-directed to, where uncensored search results are available in simplified Chinese characters.

This new attempt at censorship comes as the Chinese authorities try to suppress the many calls for demonstrations that have been prompted by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

Filtering has been beefed up. Terms like “Egypt” and “jasmine” (a reference to the “jasmine revolution” in Tunisia) have joined the long list of key words blocked by the Chinese authorities. Repression against activists has increased. Dozens have been arrested following calls for public meetings.

The phrase “nuclear leak” has also been blocked by the authorities as the government tries to head off any kind of social unrest that may be sparked by fears of a potential spread of radioactivity from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. A service put in place by Google to help find people missing after the earthquake is also thought to have been disrupted in China.

Tibet under pressure

Meanwhile, criticism of China’s policy of assimilation in the autonomous region of Tibet surfaced again on 10 March, the 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan uprising and the day the Dalai Lama decided step down as head of the Tibetan government. This triggered another flurry of activity by the censors.

The Chinese-language Tibetan site disappeared from the Internet at 6 p.m. on 16 March. Portrayed as a bridge between Tibetan and Chinese cultures, the site had become a Tibetan Internet landmark and a genuine source of information about the region’s bloggers.

The site’s webmasters have always taken great care over the content of the sites they hosted so as not to provoke the Chinese authorities. They still do not know exactly why they have been hit by this sanction. The site, associated to, and its social network,, were also shut down shortly after 10 March.

“Censorship and the restriction of information violate basic human decency,” the Dalai Lama said in his speech on 10 March. “For instance, China’s leaders consider the communist ideology and its policies to be correct. If this were so, these policies should be made public with confidence and open to scrutiny.”

Banned from communicating with foreigners during the election of the new Tibetan parliament and constantly under surveillance, Tibetan journalists, bloggers and writers are in the authorities’ line of sight.

The latest wave of repression, launched after the March 2008 uprising, has never ceased. Since then, at least 50 Tibetans have been arrested and some have been sentenced to lengthy jail terms for sending information, photographs or videos out of the country.

China is on Reporters Without Borders the list of countries that are “Enemies of the Internet”. See the report published on 12 March.