China blocks access to web portals

Move follows Nuctech corruption allegations

HONG KONG — In a sign of further tightening of web controls, two of China’s leading web portals, Sina and Netease, were blocked temporarily this week after both sites posted news about a Namibian probe into corruption allegations against Nuctech, a Beijing company that used to be headed up by President Hu Jintao’s son, Hu Haifeng.

Both Sina and Netease had reported details of a probe into Nuctech, which makes scanning equipment, carried by two newspapers, The Australian and London’s Daily Telegraph.

Neither report made any mention of Hu Haifeng, who is the Communist Party secretary for the holding company that owns Nuctech. A spokesman for corruption authorities in Namibia was quoted saying Hu Haifeng was not linked to the investigation.

Also, Digu and Zuosa, two Chinese websites that offer micro-blogging services similar to Twitter, have gone offline. They join Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Fanfou, a Chinese version of Twitter, as well as other well-known social networking sites, on the wrong side of the Great Firewall of China.

Internet access in Urumqi, which was the scene of ethnic conflict earlier this month, was also shut off completely after the violence.

Data last week showed that China’s online population has leapt to 338 million Internet users, up 13.4% this year. However, China also has the most rigorous policing of the Internet, and was recently forced to abandon a plan to install spy software on all new PCs after a massive public outcry.

While the government likes the business benefits of the Internet, it dislikes the platform it provides for differing political opinions and has issued rafts of rules in response to the rise of blogging and other trends, often under the guise of anti-smut regulations.

The rights group Reporters Without Borders issued a statement condemning orders issued by the Propaganda Department to Chinese news media and news websites to censor reports about the corruption case in Namibia. It also slammed the decision to close a human rights law center last week.

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