Access to e-mail from abroad via computers at public libraries or state facilities by the general public; whether censorship is practiced at libraries or state facilities [CHN42290.E]

According to an Associate Professor at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University whose research area involves the Internet in China, including issues of government control, there is not widespread public access to the Internet at public libraries or state facilities in China (16 Jan. 2004). Most people access the Internet at cyber-cafes, their workplace, or through their personal subscription-based service (ibid.). He further added that university students are able to access the Internet on campus (ibid.). The Associate Professor provided the following information regarding Internet censorship in China:

[T]he Internet, including e-mail, is heavily censored at many different levels. First, certain IP [Internet Protocol] addresses are blocked, and Internet service providers are prevented from allowing access to a number of sites. There are also technical blockages of certain kinds of content, so that it would often be difficult to receive e-mail from religious organizations, as the Chinese government routinely blocks certain addresses, and also can filter out e-mail [messages] that contain sensitive words, such as Falun Gong. I maintain a list serve of academics studying the Internet in China, and every time a message containing "Falun Gong" is sent on the e-mail list, all of our China-based subscribers lose their access to the e-mail accounts hosted by Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. The third level is at the cyber-cafe level, so that even if the filtering system were to let a few e-mail [messages] to slip through, most cyber-cafes post signs warning users that it is illegal to access certain material, and the cyber-cafes by law are required to prevent people from accessing that material. In addition, the cafes would have filters on their computers preventing access to certain sites (16 Jan. 2004).

A PhD candidate in economics and law at Harvard University, who recently completed a fellowship with the law school's Berkman Center for Internet & Society where he researched Internet filtering in China, provided the following corroborating information3/4reflecting his personal opinion3/4on e-mail access and Internet censorship in China:

In China, the general public is able only partially to receive e-mail messages at a computer at a public library or other state facility. Many messages are blocked -- typically for coming from banned senders ... or for including any of various banned words. The blocking rules change frequently, making it difficult to predict whether any particular message or class of message would be blocked in any single instance. But the net effect of China's e-mail filtering efforts is to make e-mail unreliable when messages discuss any subject that is even slightly controversial (or contains words suggesting such subjects).
In my research, religious subjects are treated as off-limits by China --subject to extensive filtering. E-mail messages about religion are likely to be blocked by China, particularly when the messages contain words suggesting religious beliefs or practices deemed particularly illicit in China.
My testing gives little reason to think that e-mail filtering in Chinese libraries and other state facilities is much more intrusive than e-mail filtering elsewhere in China. This is so because mail filtering generally occurs at the point where e-mail messages enter China ("the international gateway" or "the destination mail server"), not at the point where they are retrieved ("the user's network"). Nonetheless, the general Chinese mail filtering is sufficiently intrusive, particularly for sensitive subjects, that users are near certain to be affected (PhD candidate 15 Jan. 2004).

According to the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC) and its partner, the Human Rights Documentation Centre (HRDC), "in spite of its obligations under international human rights law ... [t]he Chinese authorities have adopted restrictive laws, arrests, detentions, censorship, bans, surveillance of and restrictions on the use of the Internet" (22-25 Apr. 2003). Amnesty International reports that in an attempt to quell "'subversive'" information, the Chinese authorities have closed thousands of Internet cafes and "at least 30,000 state security personnel are believed to be engaged in surveillance of websites, chat rooms and private e-mail messages" (Dec. 2002). In an article on freedom of expression in China, SAHRDC states that "experts and users have reported selective blocking of e-mail that mentions certain words, e.g. 'Falun Gong', restricted or difficult access to foreign sites and continued interruption of search engines on particular topics" (22-25 Apr. 2003). Furthermore, cyber-cafes are instructed to register with the Ministry of State Security and respond to police inquiries (AI 26 Nov. 2002).

The Human Rights in China (HRIC) Communications Director reported knowing of several people who were arrested by the Public Security police for receiving or sending e-mail containing prohibited information, such as religious materials (12 Jan. 2004). Please refer to Amnesty International's "List of People Detained for Internet-related Offences in China" available at$FILE/China_internet_list.pdf for specific information on detainees.

Despite these efforts to monitor the Internet, HRIC believes that the Chinese authorities are fighting a losing battle as the general population becomes increasingly adept at bypassing the government's filters (HRIC 23 July 2003).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Amnesty International (AI). December 2002. "China Clamps Down on the Use of the Internet." The Wire. [Accessed 13 Jan. 2004]

_____. 26 November 2002. "China: Internet Users at Risk of Arbitrary Detention, Torture and Even Execution." Press Release. (ASA 17/056/2002) [Accessed 13 Jan. 2004]

Associate Professor, School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. 16 January 2004. Correspondence.

Human Rights in China (HRIC), New York. 12 January 2004. Correspondence sent by the Director of Communications.

_____. 23 July 2003. "China's Losing Battle to Control Cyberspace." [Accessed 12 Jan. 2004]

PhD candidate, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 15 January 2004. Correspondence.

South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC) and the Human Rights Documentation Centre (HRDC). 22-25 April 2003. Vol. 6, No. 6. "'Stainless Steel Mouse & Golden Shield'." Human Rights Features. [Accessed 12 Jan. 2003]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases

Internet sites, including:

Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School

Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China

Human Rights in China

Human Rights Watch

Associated documents