HAS PASSED a controversial cybersecurity bill, further tightening restrictions
on online freedom of speech, raising concerns that it could intensify already
wide-ranging internet censorship.
ruling Communist Party oversees a vast censorship system – dubbed the Great
Firewall – that aggressively blocks sites or snuffs out internet content and
commentary on topics considered sensitive, such as Beijing’s human rights
record and criticism of the government.
law, which was approved by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee,
bans internet users from publishing a wide variety of information, including
anything that damages “national honour”, “disturbs economic or social order” or
is aimed at “overthrowing the socialist system”.
law requires companies to verify a user’s identity, effectively making it
illegal to go online anonymously.
also includes provisions for protecting the country’s networks and private user
drafts of the legislation drew a wave of criticism from rights groups and
businesses, which objected to its vague language.
companies, in particular, expressed concern about language that would require
them to cooperate with Chinese authorities to “protect national security”,
broadly-worded language that was included in the final version of the law.
dangerous law commandeers internet companies to be de facto agents of the
state, by requiring them to censor and provide personal data to the authorities
at a whim,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher at overseas-based rights group
authorities have long reserved the right to control and censor online content.
But the country stepped up its controls in 2013, launching a wide-ranging internet
crackdown that targeted activists and focused on the spread of so-called
of Chinese bloggers and journalists were detained as part of the campaign to
assert greater control over social media, which has seen influential critics of
Beijing paraded on state television.
regulations announced at the time, Chinese internet users face three years in
prison for writing defamatory messages that are re-posted 500 times or more.
Web users can also be jailed if offending posts are viewed more than 5,000
posted on social media have been used in the prosecution of various activists,
such as human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang.
online speech and privacy are a bellwether of Beijing’s attitude toward
peaceful criticism, everyone – including netizens in China and major
international corporations – is now at risk,” said Sophie Richardson, China
Director of Human Rights Watch.
“This law’s passage
means there are no protections for users against serious charges.