China Asks Internet Users for Help After “Hide-and-Seek” Death

February 24, 2009 10:58 AM
by Josh Katz
China, which often inhibits online activity, appears to be taking a new approach by seeking the help of netizens to investigate a death from an alleged “hide-and-seek” incident.

China Calls on Netizen Help

Chinese authorities arrested Li Qiaoming, 24, “for stealing and cutting down trees illegally,” according to Shanghai Daily. He was moved to a prison in Jinning County to await his trail.

Police say Li died from a brain injury incurred during a game of blindfolded hide-and-seek, known as “Duo maomao” in the country, while in detention. They say he was knocked against a wall and brought to a hospital on February 8 in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where he died four days later.

The incident has sparked widespread speculation over the Internet about the cause of death; police abuse of detainees is, according to Reuters India, “a regular topic for the media.” The Chinese government has responded by asking Internet users to examine the death.

“It’s the first time in Yunnan, and even in China, netizens have been asked to participate in an investigation,” Gong Fei, Yunnan’s propaganda chief, was quoted as saying by Reuters India.

The Yunnan Provincial Party Committee asked eight “netizens and ordinary residents to join a committee investigating the death,” according to Shanghai Daily. The committee of 15 members also “includes four government officials and three journalists.”

China is the most populous nation in the world, with the most Internet users. At the end of 2008, there were 298 million users in the country, up about 42 million from the year before.

Related: China cracks down on Internet companies, including Google

On Jan. 5, the Chinese government attacked 19 Internet companies for allowing access to pornography. The government released a list of the companies, including Google and Baidu, the two most popular search engines in China, and provided short statements explaining why the companies were culpable. Seven government ministries will be coordinating efforts “to purify the Internet’s cultural environment and protect the healthy development of minors,” reported the International Herald Tribune, quoting a statement posted on an unnamed government-run news site.

Pornography is illegal in China, and the 19 sites “were called out publicly with the apparent goal of getting them to respond more quickly to notifications about problematic content,” Ars Technica said.

Internet companies including Yahoo, Google and Microsoft teamed up with human rights groups in October 2008 to advocate for the Global Network Initiative. The culmination of a two-year effort, the initiative was meant to counteract the attempts by some governments, particularly that of China, to suppress the dissemination of information on the Internet, and to use the Internet to watch their populations.

The Initiative states that privacy is “a human right and guarantor of human dignity,” and the companies that participate in the campaign are supposed to object when a country attempts to seize that right.

Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have faced criticism in recent years for acceding to certain countries’ requests to minimize Internet freedom, and the initiative is seen as their response. Google has been charged with blocking information about democracy and Tiananmen Square on the Internet, for example, at the insistence of the Chinese government, the BBC reported. Observers have named the result of such alliances between the Internet companies and the Chinese government the “Great Firewall of China.”

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