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Last Updated: Friday, 11 June, 2004, 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK
China creates web vigilante site
Chinese internet cafe
Chinese authorities have an ambiguous attitude towards the web
The Chinese authorities have begun a new website for people to report on what officials describe as illegal or unhealthy information on the internet.

The site claims it will protect Chinese web users, set to number 100 million by 2005 - a tally second only to the US.

It is the latest move by Beijing to try to control the use of the internet.

It came as prominent cyber dissident Du Daobin, 40, was found guilty of "subverting state power" and given a suspended jail sentence.

Du, who was arrested last October for posting online essays in support of a fellow dissident Liu Di, was given an unusually light sentence of three years in jail, suspended for four years.

Xinhua news agency said he was dealt with leniently because "he was quite co-operative during interrogation".

Other such dissidents have been sentenced to up to 11 years in jail.

The authorities behind the new website, called net.china, claimed at its launch that it would protect the common interest of Chinese web surfers and guide the healthy development of the internet.

On the site's homepage is a space where examples of web abuse can be reported.

Officials said the privacy of those who reported offending web sites would be protected, while their operators would be warned to remove the material.

The officials stressed that the main aim of the site was to protect young people from harmful material, pornography in particular.

China's authorities have shown an ambiguous attitude to the rise of internet use.

On the one hand they see it as essential for remaining economically competitive to have a computer literate population.

Chinese internet cafe
The majority of Chinese internet users are young people

But on the other hand they fear the open access to information that the internet provides.

So the government has done its best to control internet use through a range of regulations, outlawing all sorts of content from political dissent to gambling.

It blocks access to distant sites and most foreign news organisations.

It calls on internet providers to show what it calls self discipline and has internet police units monitoring online activity, including people surfing in the many thousands of internet cafes.

On the same day that the new site was launched, the information ministry announced that there would soon be a new campaign against what it calls illegal or unauthorised websites, this time targeting the internet service providers as well.

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