On the Olympic stage, the Great Firewall remains a player

By: spambot on 30 July 2008
Posted in China

"There will be no restrictions on journalists in reporting on the Olympic Games."

Over seven years after China issued this decree in its official bid for the 2008 Olympic Games, and less than two weeks until they kick off in Beijing, this promise has been significantly compromised. Today, the IOC admitted to accepting a deal with the Chinese government in which sensitive websites that were "not considered Games-related" would be blocked.

On the contrary, the sites being filtered frequently address tumultuous and controversial changes that have been wrought in preparation for the Games, from crackdowns on civil society to the transformation of a capital city and other social upheavals. ONI testing conducted at the Olympics Main Press Center (MPC) confirms that filtering of Internet content continues even for members of the foreign press through TCP reset keyword blocking and IP address blocking. In addition to Chinese Wikipedia (http://zh.wikipedia.org), the Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and BBC News services in Chinese were all filtered. A number of websites for Tibetan and Uighur rights groups, a popular online forum for Chinese students (http://www.bbs.com), were also blocked. Two of Flickr’s photo servers were also filtered, though the site remained accessible.

Though it is unclear why blocking access to primarily Chinese-language sites at venues for foreign journalists would be necessary, so far Olympics organizers have yet to acknowledge this filtering extends beyond the range of Falungong-related websites. At a press conference on July 28, BOCOG media director Sun Weijia responded to a Wall Street Journal reporter who physically displayed the filtering of certain websites on his laptop by denying anything was amiss. This was followed by reports from journalists that the Amnesty International website was also being filtered at the MPC. This time, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson laid part of the blame with the websites themselves, claiming they have problems making them “not easy to view in China.”