Internet users in China are at risk of arbitrary detention, torture and even execution, Amnesty International said Wednesday.
The London-based human rights organization detailed the cases of at least 33 people who have been detained or imprisoned for offences related to their use of the Internet.
They ranged from political activists and writers to members of unofficial organizations, including the Falun Gong spiritual movement, Amnesty said. It called on the Chinese authorities to release all those currently detained or jailed for using the Internet to peacefully express their views or share information.
One of the longest sentences has been passed against a former police officer, Li Dawei, who has been sentenced to 11 years for downloading articles from Chinese democracy websites abroad. All his appeals had been turned down, Amnesty said.
It added that two Falun Gong members detained for Internet-related offences had died in custody, apparently as a result of torture or ill-treatment at the hands of the police. The movement was banned [ ] in July 1999.
The Chinese government was filtering or blocking foreign websites and setting up a special Internet police, Amnesty said.
In late August China blocked access to the Google Internet search engine for a brief period, diverting users to local Chinese search engines instead.
The Ministry of State Security has reportedly installed tracking devices on Internet service providers to monitor individual e-mail accounts and all Internet cafes are required to register and inform the police about their customers.
"Anyone surfing the Internet could potentially be at risk of arbitrary detention and imprisonment," Amnesty said. In extreme cases, individuals who publish information on the Internet which is considered to be a "state secret" could even be sentenced to death.
Amnesty said foreign companies had reportedly sold technology to China, which had been used to censor the Internet.
"As China's role as an economic and trading partner grows, multinational companies have a particular responsibility to ensure that their technology is not used to violate fundamental human rights," it said.
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