China is top internet rights abuser for fourth successive year

(Photo courtesy: Bloomberg)

(, Nov06’19) – China has been the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for the fourth consecutive year, while Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia were not far behind, according to Washington-based independent international rights monitoring group Freedom House, releasing its latest report Nov 5.

The report, Freedom on the Net 2019: The Crisis of Social Media, evaluates the state of internet freedom in 65 countries between Jun 2018 and May 2019, and has found that 33 were on an “overall decline”.

The evaluation was made terms of “obstacles to access,” “limits on content,” and “violations of user rights,” and each country was assigned a score between zero (least free) and 100 (most free). The report says internet freedom has been declining in all regions of the world, with only four countries, namely Iceland, Estonia, Canada, and Germany, scoring 80 or above.

Iceland was ranked first with a score of 95 while China took the bottom spot with the lowest possible score of 10. Vietnam (61st, with a score of 24) and Myanmar (47th with a score of 36) were classified as “not free”. Cambodia (42nd, with a score of 43) was classified among countries that were “partly free.”

With regard to China, the report says: “Censorship reached unprecedented extremes as the government enhanced its information controls in advance of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and in the face of widespread antigovernment protests in Hong Kong.”

Examples are cited of government administrators closing down individual accounts on WeChat for such alleged “deviant” behaviours as “commenting on environmental disasters”.

The report notes that the threat of account lockdown has caused users to censor themselves or lose access to the platform, which has become necessary in everyday life in China, giving users access to services like transportation and banking.

The report also deals with the issue of China’s role as a leader in the creation, use and transfer of social media surveillance tools. Semptian, the Chinese developer of the Aegis surveillance system, is reported to boast that it currently monitors 200 million people in China, amounting to one-fourth of the country’s internet users.

The report says China also has access to user content and metadata, which it uses to identify and punish those who share content it doesn’t like. Example is cited of a case from Mar 2019 when a member of the Uyghur Muslim minority from Xinjiang was detained for three days because someone in his WeChat contacts list had “checked in” from Saudi Arabia.


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