China shut down nearly 128,000 websites that contained obscene and other “harmful” information in 2017, the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Monday, citing government data.
Xinhua said 30.9 million illegal publications were confiscated in 2017, while 1,900 people were subject to criminal penalties, according to figures from the national office in charge of combating pornography and illegal publications.
Under China’s President Xi Jinping’s leadership, China has tightened censorship and controls of cyberspace as part of efforts to maintain “social stability.”
But while the government says its rules are aimed at ensuring national security and stability, human rights organizations have warned that the country’s tough laws governing the internet amount to repressive measures aimed at quashing dissent.
In Washington-based Freedom House’s 2017 report on internet freedom, China was designated the “worst abuser of internet freedom” for the third consecutive year.
“New regulations increased pressure on companies to verify users’ identities and restrict banned content and services,” Freedom House said in its report.
China has more than 730 million internet users, boasts the largest e-commerce market in the world and has consumers who enthusiastically embrace mobile digital technology.
But China also expands censorship to overseas academic publishers.
Cambridge University Press and Springer Nature, which publishes Nature and the Scientific American, both have confirmed that they blocked access to journal articles to Chinese internet users. These articles contained banned keywords relating to political topics such as Tibet, Taiwan, Falun Gong or the Cultural Revolution.
Cambridge University Press removed 300 politically sensitive articles from its website in China after a request from authorities, in Beijing, but restored them after petitions from world wide users and Human Rights NGOs.