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Friday April 20, 2001

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China cracks down on cyber-dissent

By The Associated Press

BEIJING - Police have detained a veteran Chinese activist who printed out pro-democracy material from a Web site and an engineer whose home page carried a vehement denunciation of communism, a human rights group said yesterday.

Police would not confirm the report, but it came amid intensified efforts to block use of the Internet to spread opposition to communist rule. A teacher was sentenced in March to two years in prison for criticizing the Communist Party in an online discussion.

Veteran activist Chi Shouzhu was picked up Wednesday shortly after printing online materials using a friend's computer, said the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

It said he was carrying the materials when he was detained at a train station in the northeastern city of Changchun. Chi, a factory worker, was released in June after serving a 10-year prison term for taking part in 1989 pro-democracy protests.

His detention appeared to be a sign of more active efforts to police Web use.

"In the past, arrests have involved actively propagating dissent, as opposed to passively receiving information," said Duncan Clark, a Web consultant in Beijing. "I think the authorities may be getting more sophisticated in their approach."

Yang Zili, a software engineer, was detained March 13 after he left his home in Beijing, the Information Center said.

The reason was unclear, but Yang's home page carries essays on politics and such sensitive issues as Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province. His most recent entry, dated March 5, 2001, includes a condemnation of the "soul of communism," which he said caused the Chinese people unprecedented suffering.

"Give the last deadly blow to that soul for the sake of freedom, power and the glory of our ancestors," it said.

The information center said Yang's wife was angry that after more than a month, she had not been told where her husband was or why he was detained.

Yang's home page was located within a popular Chinese Web site,

China requires Web service providers to guard against political activity, but the huge volume of Web traffic can make that difficult.

"Sohu hosts more than 200,000 home pages. If we found material that is not appropriate, we would remove it, but it's not that easy to monitor," said Sohu spokeswoman Caroline Straathof.

The government tries to block access to Web sites deemed subversive, but Chinese can reach them through other sites abroad, known as proxies.

Officials would not comment yesterday on a report by the information center that police were installing software to prevent Chinese computer users from reaching blocked overseas sites via proxies.

China has also recently stepped up a campaign against businesses that offer Web access without required licenses. State-run media report daily on the drive to wipe out unauthorized "Internet bars."

Such establishments are accused of corrupting young Chinese by giving them a way to view online pornography.