China shuts down liberal website after call for reform

January 05, 2013 - 2:05:59 am

BEIJING: A liberal Chinese journal’s website was shut down yesterday, it said, in the latest and most prominent example of a crackdown by Chinese authorities against online freedom of expression.

The website of the Beijing-based Annals of the Yellow Emperor was closed days after it published an article urging leaders to guarantee constitutional rights including freedom of speech and assembly.

The publication, which has links with senior retired Communist officials, had argued in the article that the country’s constitution lays out a road map for political reform.

Closure of the website follows censorship by the authorities of similar calls made by a key liberal newspaper, while several influential Chinese journalists have had their social networking accounts deleted in recent weeks.

The crackdown comes despite pledges of change from China’s new Communist leadership, headed by president-in-waiting Xi Jinping, which has promised a more open style of governance since the ruling party’s congress in November.

Attempts to access the website yesterday led to a page with a cartoon policeman holding up a badge and the message: “The website you are visiting has been closed because it has not been filed on record.

“At around 9am today, the website was closed,” said a post on the Annals’ official web page on Sina Weibo, a website similar to Twitter, and later confirmed by the magazine’s editors.

Editor-in-chief Wu Si said he had received a message from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the  Internet regulator, last month stating that the website had been “cancelled”. The ministry did not respond to faxed questions and phone calls yesterday.

The website closure came a day after censors blocked an article from popular liberal newspaper Southern Weekly which called for the realisation of a “dream of constitutionalism in China” so that citizens’ rights could be protected.

A propaganda official in Guangdong province, where the newspaper is based, removed the article and replaced it with a weaker message, said several current and former journalists at the newspaper.

“The Southern Weekly incident is very important, very unprecedented... this kind of direct intervention by propaganda officials is something we haven’t seen,” David Bandurski, a Chinese media researcher at the University of Hong Kong, said.

Several journalists known for criticism of the government found that their accounts on Sina Weibo were deleted last month, shortly before China — which has the world’s biggest population of Internet users — announced tightened online controls.