It will probably come as little surprise to anyone who follows the stories of internet censorship and filtering that once again China has been listed as the least free place to use the internet. The report was release by an organisation called Freedom House who produce this survey annually and monitor changes to the tables. There is also a worrying global trend with overall online freedom declining across the world for the sixth year in a row.
The survey uses a simple assessment which rates the level of freedom online from a 1 (completely free) to a 100 which is the worse possible score. China again scored an oppressive 88, the same as last year and again higher than any other country in the survey. These include countries like Syria, Iraq and Cuba who are known to heavily restrict and filter access to the internet. China is cementing it’s position as the most oppressive state with regards internet freedom.
There are some digital activists in China, those who are able to protest and who use VPNs like these to speak online. However they are increasingly coming under pressure from increasingly draconian legislation and restrictions. For example one amendment to criminal law has added a 7 year prison term for those deemed to be spreading rumours – these are usually interpreted as anything which criticizes the state. Other example include members of religious minorities who have been imprisoned for watching religious videos on their mobile phones.
Many thousands of websites are inaccessible from China and the list grows every day. Any publication which criticizes any aspect of China or it’s policies is likely to be added to the banned list. recently the Economist and the South China Morning Post (which operates from Hong Kong) were blocked for their political articles. Most Chinese will routinely use a VPN to access something for an independent media source, it’s common to see BBC World News streaming on laptops and mobile phones although users will tend to obviously try and be discrete for obvious reasons.
Oddly China hosts a World Internet conference, which is full of irony in both practice and it’s speakers. Last year the President Xi Jinping delivered a speech calling for ‘cyber sovereignty’ where no country holds a monopoly on internet governance and that Chinese internet users are allowed freedom online. Of course, nobody pointed out that it was his Government who were wholly responsible for their lack of freedom. There were some concessions though, foreign journalists were allowed access through the Great Chinese Firewall, local journalists though were blocked as normal.