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Monday, February 8, 1999 Published at 18:22 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Net dissident appeals

Computer usage in China is growing

A Chinese businessman jailed for two years for using the Internet to undermine the state has launched an appeal, accoding to a Hong-Kong based human rights organisation.

Lin Hai, the owner of a Shanghai-based computer software company was sentenced last month for providing around 30,000 e-mail addresses to the US-based dissident publication, VIP Reference.

[ image: Lin Hai: Denies political motives]
Lin Hai: Denies political motives
The list was reportedly used to distribute banned news and comment material to the owners of the Chinese e-mail addresses.

Mr Lin admitted supplying the addresses but said he did it for commercial purposes and was not aware of their final use.

His was the first case in China of anyone being charged with using the Internet for the purposes of political subversion. At the time the publisher of VIP Reference described Mr Lin's prosecution as a "landmark case".

Net directory

[ image: Chinese authorities are worried about the Net's political uses]
Chinese authorities are worried about the Net's political uses
He filed the appeal against his conviction last week in the Shanghai People's High Court. The Hong Kong-based Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said in a statement that no decision has yet been reached on the appeal.

"What makes Lin's case so ridiculous is the fact that the People's Daily newspaper is about to publish a Chinese e-mail address directory," the Information Centre said. "It will be available to anyone at a cost of 750 yuan [$90]."

The same organisation reported on Friday that the Chinese authorities had ordered the closure of the country's most outspoken and popular Internet forum, Richtalk.

The site had carried debates on such issues as the Tiananmen square massacre of 1989 and around 600,000 users are reported to have joined the online debates in the last two months alone.

Government worries

Both cases are seen as symptomatic of the Chinese governments' anxiety at the rapid growth of the Internet as a means of political mobilisation.

China's online community is still small but it is growing rapidly and the majority of users are thought to come from China's well-educated and influential elite.

In an effort to control access to sites considered politically or socially undesirable users can only access the Net through the state owned service provider ChinaNet.

The government has also recently ordered tighter controls to be put in place at the growing number of cybercafes, where ordinary people can get access to the Internet for just a few dollars.

Even in the capital, ownership of a computer is beyond the reach of most Chinese families, costing at least three times the average salary.

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