Daring Bloggers Playing 'Cat and Mouse' Game in China

Faced with escalating attacks by Internet police, daring bloggers in China are playing a game of "cat and mouse" by inventing code words and creating multiple accounts with pseudonyms to escape censors.

It's a dangerous game, with Chinese security forces controlling e-mail and scanning Internet services for 1,083 filtered words -- over 70 percent of them names of dissidents.

Chinese activists are fearful of sending e-mail messages that can be discovered by security forces, forcing them to invent new ways of communicating, according to Tienchi Martin-Liao, president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center.

"E-mail users in China are monitored and watched by security police," she said. "If you send or receive e-mails, they can take action. If you don't press send, you can communicate...there are ways."

In repressive countries around the world, the Internet War is here. Half of the jailed online journalists around the world are bloggers, Web-based reporters and editors. Sixty-eight bloggers are behind bars -- and the numbers are climbing each day.

"The battle for press freedom has moved online," said Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. " The Internet has opened the doors wider, but this new freedom has brought on its own set of dangers and vulnerabilities. "

Iranian blogger Omid Memarian -- who was jailed for three months for his writing -- says that the lessons China's security forces have learned in censoring Internet and e-mail users are being studied by Iran. "Iran has intensified its filtering, doing what China has done the last few years," he said.

Tens of millions of bloggers in China are out there in the new frontier and many of them are plotting to figure out how to escape censors. The government screens Internet servers for "sensitive content," monitors Skype, scans e-mail transmissions and disconnects services without telling Chinese users.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game, but there are ways to survive," Martin-Liao said during a panel today on the Capitol Hill on "Bloggers Behind Bars," sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy's Center for International Media Assistance.

"You can register several blogs and use pseudo names...or have a blog outside China if you have the software to climb over the firewall. Another way is to avoid sensitive words or make modifications to the sensitive words by adding a number of extra letter."

Martin-Liao singled out Cisco network for providing the technology for the Chinese government to censor. "All the Internet police are using Cisco systems. Cisco morally should develop a technique to support the users,: she said.

Of the 136 jailed journalists worldwide, the worst offenders are China with 24 are in prison, Iran with 23, Cuba with 22 and Eritrea with 19, according to the last prison census poll by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"A reporter or blogger for the price of a phone connection can have their own virtual printing press to speak instantly to an audience of 1 billion people, " said Mahoney. "It has also produced information choke points, that is to say a handful of companies that authoritarian governments can use to silence users....They can halt circulation by pulling the plug."