Google search and other services are starting to get blocked leading to the Chinese 18th Congress, according to the recent data from the Google Transparency Report. Traffic of the site went down dramatically starting Nov.9, right in the beginning of the Chinese 18th Congress. According to a New York Times article, Google officials said that the sites are not experiencing technical difficulties, so the speculation that the Chinese government blocked the sites given sensitive timing makes the most sense.
This is the first major offense toward Google after its disputes with the Chinese government in 2010 that resulted Google directing Chinese search traffic to its Hong Kong server, thus getting around the Chinese censorship.
The block is hardly surprising at all, given the steep increase in media censorship leading and during the beginning of the Chinese 18th Congress. Guidelines to all the media organizations were sent out from the Department of Communication long time before the event to suggest positive and proper coverage, and outspoken western publications are, of course, off the internet. The government goes to extremes of censorship such as banning opening taxi windows preventing activists spreading flyers, and banning pigeons and ballons for the same reason.
Of course the usual intimidation and arrests continue going on and have sharply increased. According to Reporters without Borders, a French NGO advocating freedom of information, the Chinese government increased the harassment toward activists and their family. Police officers carried out a violent search of the houese of the brother of Chen Guangcheng’s, the Chinese activist lawyer who is currently under protection in the United States. Authorities also arrested Chen’s son and the court refused Chen’s complaint.
Reporters without Borders also reports that the government blocked coverage of a demonstration in a southern village of Hainan Province, where several hundred people allegedly took part in the demonstration protesting the construction of a power plant.
Journalists who work for the foreign media are especially targeted due to their supposed more flexibility at writing and publishing negative news. Two Sky New journalists and a AFP reporter were allegedly arrested in October, and the information about the arrests is extremely limited.
It is sad to see how the Chinese government hasnt lossen the control over the media coverage the past five years since the last national congress, when such proposal as to promote press freedom was briefly put on the table. It is almost unrealistic to hope the new leadership would make the situations better, but it is still my hope.