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Free speech fears on web curb call

Kelly Ip

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

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A state-run think tank has called on the central government to strengthen the already stringent internet regulations in the mainland to curb the rise of social movements.

It warned that the experience in Hong Kong showed how effective the use of social media can be in organizing protests.

The latest Blue Book of China's Society - released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences - refers to the recent protests against national education, where Joshua Wong Chi-fung, a secondary school student, mobilized tens of thousands of people through Facebook.

Wong, convener of the group Scholarism, responded to the commentary, saying he fears it could lead to curbs on Hong Kong's freedom of speech.

"For the first time the central government's think tank has defined the social movement as `extreme and can cause controversy and anxiety,' suggesting that the central government rejects Hong Kong people's opinion," he wrote on Facebook.

Facebook and Twitter are blocked in the mainland, pushing online users to use homegrown social microblog Sina Weibo, which is heavily regulated.

The blue book also pointed to the publication of photos and news about Wukan village in Guangdong, where thousands protested against the local government selling rural land to developers.

It said the younger generation is good at using the internet to make their voices heard, but warned that some of their opinions are extreme and can cause controversy and anxiety.

"Some may spread irresponsible rumors on the internet," the academy's Institute of Sociology deputy director Chen Guangjin said.

"Strengthening internet regulations should be the trend of development."

He stressed that regulation is not the same as suppression and that "anyone violating the law should be punished according to the law."

The academy said Beijing should monitor public opinions on the web to reduce social resistance and to maintain stability.

But it admitted that controlling the use of the internet is not an easy task and that further regulation could deter people from reporting corruption.

The blue book pointed out that most group events induced by social conflicts are mainly due to land expropriation and house demolitions, environmental pollution and labor controversies. All these total around 100,000 cases.

It quoted a survey of 2,100 post-80s and post- 90s respondents in the mainland which showed that more than 60 percent are dissatisfied with the current social conditions, and only 30 percent agree that "most government officials have better morals."


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