Monday, January 25, 2016

Scholarly Trudeau website blocked in China

Scholarly Trudeau website blocked in China

When computer sleuths from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation studied the users of its website over the past 12 months, they found something very mysterious: Not a single person from China had visited the site.
The Trudeau Foundation, which awards scholarships to outstanding students of issues such as human rights and social justice, wanted to reach people in the world's most populous country. But nobody from China seemed to be seeing its site.
The foundation soon discovered why: The site had been blocked on all computers in China for many months, apparently because it contained references to rights and democracy.
The Canadian government created the foundation two years ago, with an endowment of $125-million, to honour the former prime minister's memory. The endowment will eventually support more than 100 scholars a year and is intended to rival the prestigious Rhodes Scholarships.
The foundation first discovered the censorship when Internet users in China reported that they were unable to get access. The foundation requested an independent technical analysis by Dynamic Internet Technology, a U.S.-based company that specializes in the issue of Internet censorship in China. Its analysis verified that the site had been blocked.
With sophisticated "sniffing" software, Chinese authorities routinely block or censor the sites of many organizations, including human-rights groups, religious organizations, much of the Western media, and anything connected to Tibetan or Taiwanese independence. One study estimates that 19,000 sites are regularly blocked in China, the most elaborate system of Internet censorship in the world.
This week, the Montreal-based foundation decided to fight back. In a letter to the Chinese ambassador in Ottawa, it said it had "great concern" about the blocking of its site and it demanded that China allow access without any regulatory interference.
"We rely on our website as our principal means of communicating with the Chinese public," foundation president Stephen Toope said in the letter to Chinese Ambassador Mei Ping.
"We trust that in the future all Internet users in China will be able to access our site, which should not be subject to any regulatory controls."
The foundation has also asked the Foreign Affairs Department to raise the issue with Chinese authorities.
From a historical viewpoint, China's censorship of the foundation site is a paradoxical twist. It was Mr. Trudeau, after all, who was one of Beijing's earliest friends in the West. As prime minister in 1970, he decided to give diplomatic recognition to Communist China, putting Canada among the first Western countries to recognize the Beijing authorities.
In describing Mr. Trudeau, the foundation's website notes: "His deepest commitment was to freedom -- of the mind and of the individual -- and he set himself against the political and economic forces of his day that kept men and women in bondage"
It says one of the goals of the foundation is "to provide citizens of Canada and the world with a deeper experience of, and commitment to, democracy."
The foundation supports doctoral students doing research in one of four areas: human rights and social justice, responsible citizenship, Canada and the world, and humans and their natural environment. Each year it will award up to 15 three-year scholarships, worth $50,000 a year; up to 25 per cent of these may be given to foreign nationals studying in Canada. Grants worth up to $75,000 a year will also be given to five mid-career outstanding scholars.
So far, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa has made no response to the letter from the Trudeau Foundation. As of this week, however, the site seemed to be accessible in China, but it was unclear whether that was in response to the foundation's complaint.
While the Trudeau Foundation is one of the first Canadian groups to protest against the blocking of its site, many other Canadian sites have been censored by the estimated 30,000 Chinese officials who patrol the Internet.
To block unauthorized information, Beijing has imposed a "great Chinese firewall" to block any sensitive websites, and Canadian sites are often kept on the far side of the wall.
The Canadian site of the Falun Gong religious group, for example, is blocked in China. So, too, is the site of the Canada Tibet Committee. And while the Canadian site of Amnesty International is accessible, its link to a recent report on Chinese human-rights violations is blocked.
"The blocking of websites exposes China's public rhetoric on human rights as just that -- rhetoric," said Thubten Samdup, president of the Canada Tibet Committee. "How can human rights be protected when people have no access to information?"
He is not surprised that China has blocked his committee's site, which these days is filled with information on the Dalai Lama's coming visit to Canada.
"Allowing access to our site would reveal the great respect that the Canadian people hold for the Dalai Lama," he said. "It would fly in the face of Beijing's campaign against the Dalai Lama."