Monday, September 12, 2005

A Hundred Million Voices

Last May Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed columnist for the NYTimes, wrote about a collision between Chinese authorities and the increasing number of internet users in China. Kristof noted that were four million blogs in China and millions of people surfing the web using proxy servers to “get around” the efforts of the government to ban online activity. The article highlighted one particular blogger who, like many others, filled the role of journalistic “watchdog,” gaining the support of sympathetic villagers and filing rogue investigative reports of official wrongdoing in China.

News Saturday from Wired News reports that Yahoo, claiming compliance with Chinese law, surrendered the email address of Shi Tao to Chinese government officials. Surrendered documents led to his subsequent arrest a sentence of ten years in prison.

According to Reporters Without Borders, court papers show that Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) gave Chinese investigators information that helped them trace a personal Yahoo e-mail to Shi's computer. It says Shi was convicted for sending notes on a government circular spelling out restrictions on the media in his e-mail. He was seized in November at his home in the northwestern province of Shanxi.

Market watchers estimate more than 100 million internet users in China; last year Yahoo spent $1 billion dollars for a 40% stake in one of the leading online hosting locations. Internet is big business, and Yahoo (alongside competitors Google and Microsoft) is jockeying for favor in the political milieu and each coming under fire of charges for censoring online information that posts in conflict with official reports.

I don’t know if Shi Tao is the man about whom Kristof reported in May; I hope not, but I do know that even if he is, the contest isn’t over. Censorship or not, how do you stop the thunder of a hundred million voices?

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