China restricts news, discussion of Egypt unrest

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak struggles to listens to a question at a press conference. Chinese censors are apparently blocking online discussion of unrest in Egypt and sanitising news reports about it in a sign of official unease that the uprising could fuel calls for reform at home. (AFP)

Chinese censors are apparently blocking online discussion of unrest in Egypt and sanitising news reports about it in a sign of official unease that the uprising could fuel calls for reform at home.

Keyword searches on the unrest returned no results Monday on microblogs and the reader comment function on news reports about Egypt was disabled on major portals as China's pervasive censorship apparatus swung into full gear.

News coverage of the protests against the 30-year rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was limited to sparse accounts of the unrest that largely glossed over the underlying political factors and calls for democracy.

The coverage tended to emphasise the scenes of lawlessness in Cairo and the need to restore order. The main midday news on Monday did not include footage of the street protests, instead showing Mubarak meeting top officials.

China maintains a tight grip on its online and traditional media, actively blocking content seen as a potential challenge to the ruling legitimacy of the Communist Party.

China's leaders have faced mounting public discontent in recent years over a range of political hot-button issues including persistent reports of abusive government officials, dangerous environmental damage and now surging inflation.

China suppressed violent ethnic uprisings in Tibet and the mainly Muslim Xinjiang region of northwestern China in 2008 and 2009, while the Nobel Peace Prize won by dissident writer Liu Xiaobo in October also rattled Beijing.

Beijing's reaction to the Egypt situation recalls similar curbs put in place during the so-called "colour revolutions" in Eastern Europe a decade ago.

Stamping out such content has become more difficult, however, with the explosive growth of Twitter-like microblogging services.

China blocked Twitter in 2009 - after barring other high-profile foreign Internet services such as YouTube and Facebook - after authorities said social-networking services were being used to fan the Xinjiang violence.

However, several Chinese clones have since filled the void and drawn an enthusiastic following from the country's huge population of web users, the world's largest at 457 million.

Users have seized on the platform as a new avenue for mass expression in a tightly controlled media landscape, but controversial issues are still often blocked, either directly by the government or by providers hoping to avoid trouble from authorities.

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