China websites close amid tightening controls

Several Chinese internet sites and parts of popular web portals went offline on Tuesday amid tightening controls that have already left mainland web users without access to Facebook, Twitter and other well-known social networking sites.

Digu and Zuosa, two Chinese websites that offer micro-blogging services similar to Twitter, were both shut down for maintenance, according to notices posted on their homepages. A Digu spokesperson who would only give her surname, Zhang, said the site was offline so it could be moved to a new server. She said it would be down for at least a week.

“It’s a sensitive period, so we are not in a rush to reopen it,” Zhang said, adding that some Digu users had recently tried to post politically sensitive material to the site and that the company was having to censor such content.
She wouldn’t give any specific examples.

Zuosa employees did not respond to an email seeking comment about the sites’ closure.

The technology channels of the popular Sina and Netease web portals were also shut, apparently because they had posted news about a corruption probe without clearance from state censors.

China, with the world’s largest population of internet users at more than 298-million, has the world’s most extensive system of web monitoring and censorship and has issued numerous regulations in response to the rise of blogging and other trends.

While the government claims the main targets are pornography, online gambling and other sites deemed harmful to society, critics say that often acts as cover for detecting and blocking sensitive political content.

Twitter, Facebook and Fanfou, a Chinese site similar to Twitter, have all been blocked by Chinese authorities recently.

“Over the last few months in particular, news [in China] is being circulated through those Twitter-like sites or Facebook-like sites and instantly disseminated on a large scale,” said Xiao Qiang, director of the Berkeley China Internet Project at the University of California-Berkeley.

“It makes it very hard for the censors to block the news from circulating ... so they have stopped all these sites I guess while they figure out what to do.”

The technology channels of China’s leading web portals, Sina and Netease, could not be opened for several hours after both sites posted news about a Namibian probe into corruption allegations against Nuctech, a Beijing company that makes scanning equipment.

The articles were deleted and the channels were restored after several hours.—Sapa-AP

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