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China blocks YouTube videos

Elise Ackerman
San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

SAN JOSE, Calif. - China, which has previously shut down video traffic on YouTube's network without explanation, did so again Tuesday, according to Google.

"We don't know the reason for the blockage," said Scott Rubin, a spokesman for Google, which owns the video-sharing site. Rubin said the network in China began slowing on Monday and was eventually halted by Tuesday morning. As of Tuesday evening, Google was still working to restore the service.

March is the first anniversary of riots protesting Chinese rule in Tibet. Last week, a video purporting to show handcuffed Tibetan prisoners being beaten by Chinese policeman was released by the Tibetan government in exile. The video was posted on YouTube on March 20. It also contained graphic footage of a man who was burned with cigarettes and had a nail driven into his foot after he intervened to try to help a monk who was being beaten.

When asked about YouTube at a press conference on Monday afternoon, a Chinese government spokesman said, "We encourage the active use of the Internet, but also manage the Internet according to law."

On Tuesday, a report published by China's Official Xinhua News Agency accused the Tibetan government of faking the wounds, but did not reference YouTube.

T. Kumar, an advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific for Amnesty International USA, said the blockage of YouTube "fits the pattern of Chinese authorities censoring information." China regularly blocks Web sites that contain information it finds objectionable. Blip.TV, an online television network based in New York, has been blocked in China for over a year.

And it's not just China. Over the years, at least a dozen countries have blocked YouTube. Earlier this month, Bangladesh blocked the site for 36 hours after YouTube hosted a recording of a tense meeting between the prime minister and angry army officials following a mutiny by border guards. YouTube was not required to block the offending video.

However, in other cases, service has been restored only after Google has agreed to prevent particular videos from appearing in a specific country. For example, Thailand restored access to YouTube after blocking the site in 2007 in response to a video that appeared to mock King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Insulting the monarch is against Thai law. Google agreed not to show the offending video in Thailand.

Rubin said Google's policy is to comply with local laws. In practice, that means YouTube filters certain videos at the request of foreign governments. However, those videos can still be seen by people outside the country.

In October 2007, China shut down YouTube during a meeting of the Communist Party Congress in Beijing, according to congressional testimony given last year by Nicole Wong, Google's deputy general counsel. At the same time, the Dalai Lama was being awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.

"While we were not informed of the exact cause of the suppression of speech and we did not ourselves remove any videos, access to the site in China was reinstated only following the conclusion of the party congress," Wong said.

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