Reporters Without Borders on 22 June awarded its 2004 Cyberfreedom Prize to Huang Qi, who has been imprisoned for four years for criticising the Chinese government on his website. The prize is funded with the help of the Fondation de France. The international press freedom organisation also released its report 'Internet Under Surveillance 2004', produced with the assistance of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Bank handling official deposits.
« Internet under surveillance » 2004 report
Reporters Without Borders has published its annual report on the state of online freedom in more than 60 countries - The Internet Under Surveillance.
The rights of Internet users, webmasters and online journalists have been substantially curbed since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States. The fight against terrorism has led to stricter monitoring of Internet traffic in both democracies and under authoritarian regimes.
Four countries throw people in jail for posting "subversive" topics online - China (with 63 cyber-dissidents in prison), Vietnam (7), the Maldives (3) and Syria (2).
Censorship of online publications is steadily increasing and dictatorships are developing more and more sophisticated ways of filtering the Internet. China and Vietnam are experts in the field. But the regimes in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Tunisia and Turkmenistan also block access to a very wide range of websites, including those featuring pornography, independent magazines, banned religions and human rights.
Cuba, Burma and North Korea have even harsher policies and restrict Internet access to a tiny minority of citizens rather than set up costly monitoring systems.
Democratic countries have steadily chipped away at the freedom of their Internet users. This involves laudable aims, such as fighting online paedophilia, helping dismantle terrorist networks and protecting cultural industries against piracy.
But governments are having trouble reconciling users' rights to message privacy and freedom of expression with more and more serious financial and security concerns. As a result, Internet freedom is now much less legally protected than that of the traditional media in most democratic countries.
The report, "The Internet Under Surveillance » can be fully downloaded in .pdf format, along with the cover (300 dpi), from the website's "media downloads" link.
When state security police came to arrest Huang Qi at his home on 3 June 2000, he just had time to send a last e-mail message saying: "Goodbye everyone, the police want to take me away. We've got a long road ahead of us. Thanks to all those helping to further democracy in China."
Huang, founder of the website www.tianwang.com, was charged in January 2001 with "subversion" and "incitement to overthrow the government" (under articles 103 and 105 of the criminal code) for allowing articles about the June 1989 Tiananmen massacre to appear on his website (based in the United States after being banned in China). He had to wait until 9 May 2003 to find out he had been sentenced to five years in prison.
Worn out by prison interrogators and bad detention conditions, he fainted at the first court hearing in February 2001. A Western diplomat who was present said he had a scar on his forehead and had lost a tooth, apparently after being beaten. He was given a sham secret trial in August that year and his relatives were not allowed to visit him for three years after his arrest.
He told his wife Zeng Li he had been regularly beaten during his first years in prison by police who forced him to sleep on the floor of his cell for a year. He was also kept handcuffed in a dimly-lit room for a year. His cell was changed each month because his guards said he was talking too much to fellow prisoners about corruption and politics.