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6august20101Dharamshala: New internet censorship rules imposed in Tibet this month are just another in a succession of attempts by Chinese authorities to monitor and limit the amount of information and opinions accessed by and shared between Tibetan people. All computers in the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) which are intended for use by the public must install new state-of-the-art surveillance software by the end of August.

Policy regarding internet usage has increased dramatically since uprisings in Tibet prior to the 2008 Olympics. Every individual is now required to show their identity card before using a public computer, as part of the ‘real name’ regime. Combined with the new compulsory spy software, any material branded politically sensitive by the Chinese government can be tracked and linked to the name of the violator.


The Chinese have built a reputation as pioneers of computer software and have come under scrutiny in the past for their hacking capabilities. For example, in 2009 Canadian researchers reported that computers almost exclusively based in China had used a hi-tech electronic spy system, GhostNet, to infiltrate files and documents from governments and hundreds of private offices worldwide.


Researchers at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto found that in less than two years 1,295 computers in 103 countries had been infiltrated, including many at the Indian embassy and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s exile centres in India. Although the researchers could not certify whether the Chinese government was involved, the development in Chinese software was evident.


Chinese authorities appear to be using similar highly developed software to suppress freedom of expression in Tibet.


Blogging websites in particular, which give Tibetans the opportunity to voice their opinions and converse with others over diverse issues, have been systematically shut down by Chinese authorities in the past couple of years.


Most notably in recent months, Dolkar Tso, the wife of a recently imprisoned and highly respected Tibetan environmentalist and activist, has witnessed the permanent closure of five of her blogs in just four weeks. Dolkar began the first blog, “The Epic Behind Heavenly Beads”, on June 2nd 2010, just after Karma Samdrup’s first trial was postponed. It was closed down the following day.


Dolkar persistently started other blogs under the same name, which were all shut down within days - one when the trial restarted, another following her husband's sentencing, and one more the day Samdrup’s elder brother was also sentenced. Her last blog was set up on July 6th. What Dolkar had to say was clearly deemed undesirable material for the public gaze by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).


Reporters Without Borders have similarly reported that two blogs written by popular Tibetan poet Woeser (also known as ‘Oser’) have been censored. The blogs, which included poems and essays about Tibetan culture, and were very popular amongst students who wanted to renew their contact with Tibet after being educated in China, were closed down by their host sites in response to government orders.


Himalayanfontblog was another popular blog among writers and activists, and was viewed by many as a bridge between Tibet and the exile community. It too has been completely shut down following a brief closure in January. The author of the blog announced the closure on another website, saying “For emergency reasons I was forced to close down. Writers and bloggers, we urgently request you to back up articles and important documents.”


Popular blogging websites in Tibet which have been closed down include:


* Dolkar Tso's Blog: http://drolkartso.blog.sohu.com/%20%20

* Khawachen or Snowland: http://www.kawajian.com/
* Tibetlanguage: http://www.tibettl.com/
* Tibetanyouth : http://www.tibet123.com/bbs/
* Himalayanfontblog: http://222.186.191.24/blog/

After extensive research it appears to be the case that Tibet.cn, the official Chinese Government online newspaper - their most important tool for propaganda regarding the region - is the only Tibetan news website available to those in Tibet.


The following websites are closed to Tibetan internet users:


* Tibet.net

* Thetibetpost.com
* Phayul.com
* Outlooktibet.com
* Shambalapost.com
* Pressoftibet.com
* VOA Tibetan News: http://www1.voanews.com/tibetan/news/
* Rfa.org/tibetan
* Tibetsun.com
* Tibettimes.net
* Tibetexpress.net
* Lhasapost.com

Websites of many human rights groups, pro-Tibet campaigns and some international news media organisations have also been carefully censored or removed by the Chinese authorities.


Readers can check whether specific websites are available behind 'the great firewall of China' by visiting http://www.websitepulse.com/help/testtools.china-test.html and entering a site's URL.

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E-mail: editor@thetibetpost.com