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Monday, November 30, 1998 Published at 17:10 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Cyber dissident awaits trial in China

Internet useage is booming in China

By China Analyst James Miles

A man is awaiting trial in Shanghai prison charged with using the Internet to try to subvert the government.

Patrick Lin, 30, was arrested in March for sending 30,000 Chinese e-mail addresses to an Internet magazine run by Chinese dissidents abroad.

His wife, Xu Hong, who has not been allowed to see him since his arrest, says the government wants to use him as a warning to others.

"In my opinion the real reason they arrested Patrick is that the government want to control the Internet, to show others it's very dangerous," she said.

His trial was due to start last week, but has been postponed.

Although the Internet is available in China, the country's Internet service providers block access to sites considered to be subversive.

About two months ago, even access to the BBC's Mandarin Service began to be blocked.

The web pages of many other foreign news organisations - and of dissident publications - are also blacklisted.

Getting round the censors

Despite this, Internet usage in China grew last year by 800% - and officials expect there to be many millions of individual users by the end of the century.

There are dozens of Internet Cafes in Beijing, and savvy users can by-pass government controls by simply re-configuring their internet software.

The manager of one such establishment, U Mu Tao, says China is now open to the outside world, and Internet access is inevitable.

"I'm not surprised by the government giving permission to Internet cafes.

"This is the information age, and I don't think in the information age you can block the information."

Opposition figures in China believe the Internet still has considerable political potential.

A leading figure behind efforts to form China's first ever opposition political party, Ren Wan Ding, says computers are becoming an increasingly important tool for dissidents.

"Everyone knows that politics nowadays depends on information. If we'd all had the Internet in 1989, the movement would have been more effective, more organised," he said.

In New York a dissident group called Human Rights in China, says it is deluged by e-mails from supporters in China.

Director Xiao Chang says the Chinese government encourages Internet usage because it realises that businesses need to be competitive.

But before long, he says, its presence will be strong enough to penetrate the government's information barriers.

"The Internet draws out many many ordinary people to discuss political opinion, which they cannot express otherwise in China," he said.

"And with the growing number of the people using the Internet I can imagine that by three years from now the power of the Internet will definitely break through the current censorship of certain news and discussions in China."

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