Parliamentary question by Marco Cappato (NI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission

Parliamentary questions
by Marco Cappato (NI) to the Commission
(28 April 2003)

Subject: Closure of Internet cafes in Inner Mongolia

According to the Chinese press agency Xin-Hua News more than 700 Internet cafes in Inner Mongolia have been the subject of intimidation and intrusion by the Chinese authorities since 1 April, and as a result a number of them have been closed down. According to the official press agency the "Inner Mongolian Daily", the local police authorities have mobilised 400 officers and 150 vehicles to inspect more than 500 Internet cafes since 10 April. As a result of these checks 80% of the premises inspected in the region of Huhhot City have been closed down.

A meeting between representatives of the public security authorities, the Bureau of Culture and the telecommunications department of the Autonomous Region was held on 10 April under the supervision of the Inner Mongolian authorities. The final declaration issued at the end of the meeting states "using online games, allowing young people access to the Internet, keeping cybercafes open until late and allowing people access to the Internet without ascertaining their identity constitute unlawful activities".

Is the Commission aware of this initiative on the part of the Inner Mongolian authorities? How does it intend to prevent this initiative being used to suppress freedom of speech and expression in China further?

What pressure does it intend to exert in order to ensure that the citizens of Inner Mongolia may exercise fully freedom of speech and expression which, as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, covers freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers?

Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(13 June 2003)

The Commission is aware of the restrictions placed by the Chinese government on the use of the Internet including the requirement for users of Internet cafes to declare their identity and for servers and owners of Internet cafes to remove any “subversive” content and to keep a record of users and their connections. Following a number of tragedies resulting from non-compliance with safety standards the Chinese authorities introduced a campaign against non-registered Internet cafes in 2001 and this has led to the closure of many establishments.

Although it does not contest the legitimate concern of the Chinese authorities to protect Internet users, the European Union considers that in many respects China's policy on the Internet does not allow Chinese citizens to make full use of the freedom of expression and opinion guaranteed by the pact on civil and political rights signed by China in 1998. This matter is systematically raised by the European Union with the Chinese authorities at the six-monthly meetings held under the Euro-Chinese dialogue on human rights. The European Union regularly calls for a number of “cyber dissidents” to be released.

The Union also regularly calls for the release of prisoners who in its view have been detained because they wished to exert their right to freedom of opinion and expression, including over the Internet.

The Commission is not aware that this general policy of the Chinese authorities is applied more severely in Inner Mongolia but will closely monitor the situation in the province.