Roland Soong has translated the full text of an open letter to Sina.com (a Chinese portal and blog-hosting service) written by four Chinese lawyers. They are protesting the un-transparent, arbitrary, and unaccountable way in which Sina.com has been censoring blog posts by bloggers on its system.
They write: "Unfortunately, while Sina.com's business has been growing, it lacks business ethics. While providing the space for our blogs, it has also seriously violated our freedom of speech." Full text in both English (Roland's translation) and the original Chinese below.
It's worth noting that the open letter has been posted in many places around the Chinese-language internet, including here on a Sohu blog. Note that Sohu has censored the letter. Solidarity among censoring blog hosts?
A number of my Chinese friends have questioned whether such a protest will be of any use. Many have also offered reactions along the lines of: "What did they expect from Sina anyway. They should know there are other blog-hosting options and they can blog independently on their own server to avoid being censored." I'm sure there are plenty of Chinese geeks willing to help them rent server space somewhere set up their own blogs independently so that they won't be subject to blog host censorship. (That won't protect them from the "great firewall" and other problems, but at least they will have somewhat more control over their work.)
Other people point out that these lawyers probably know all of the above, but perhaps have other reasons for protesting in this way. The South China Morning Post (requires paid subscription) has already reported on the open letter. I imagine we'll see more global media coverage of it over the next 24 hours.
Thus the protest is helping to call attention to the way in which China's blog hosting companies like Sina and Sohu (as well as all the others) are all censoring their users' content. What's more these companies are doing it without any advance warning or negotiation with the blogger about his or her content, without any recourse to appeal, without any explanation, without any notice of what laws are being violated by the content or what laws are being complied with by erasing it, etc.
It is very appropriate that this protest is coming from a group of lawyers. This is after all a fundamental "rule of law" issue. Is China's information industry and Internet sector going to be regulated in a transparent and accountable manner? Or is it going ot be an arbitrary free-for-all where unknown people with power do things to other people for unknown reasons? Which is better for the Chinese people in the long run? Which is better for China's business environment?
If China's Internet brands want go global eventually (as Baidu is already trying to do), how can they expect to win the trust of users outside of China if they treat Chinese users with such disrespect, lie to them and ignore their concerns?
I repeat that final paragraph in my crude and colloquial Chinese:
如果中国网上的这些大名牌以后想进入到其它国家的市场，如果他们对自己国家的拥护那么不尊重，还骗他们， 不理他们... 国外的拥护有可能会信任他们？
Translation of the full open letter by Roland Soong:
We are registered users of the Sina.com blog service. For a long time, we were grateful to Sina.com for providing a free space for speech. But we do not owe Sina.com anything. When we register to have blogs with Sina.com, we are also satisfying Sina.com's business objectives. Therefore, there exists an equal obligation for Sina.com as well as us to respect each other.
Unfortunately, while Sina.com's business has been growing, it lacks business ethics. While providing the space for our blogs, it has also seriously violated our freedom of speech.
Ever since we registered, our blogs have seen large numbers of posts being willfully deleted by the Sina.com administrators. Since we were understanding, we forgave Sina.com for its violation of our rights over and over again. But we cannot tolerate this anymore, because Sina.com's censorious activities have become more and more unreasonable. Recently, the posts related to the names of Zhang Yihe (章诒) and Cui Yingjie (崔英杰) were barbarously deleted. Many netizens spent a long time to write comments, but they were deleted in a flash without even enough time to retain a copy.
Before Sina.com deletes a blog post, it does not provide any warning. At most, it will leave a system message coming down from the top, usually of the form:
Sorry. Your published essay XXX has been deleted by the system administrator. We deeply express our apologies for causing you this inconvenience. If you have questions, please send us an email. We usually respond to an email within 24 hours. 200x-x-x x:x:x"
When any blogger receives such a notice, he/she must feel that his/her dignity has been offended and that his/her freedom of speech has been violated. When Sina.com deletes something, it should tell us the reason for the deletion. It should not be about whether I have a question! Does your "deep expression" really contain any hint of "apology"?
Sina.com, please tell us: Why did you violate our freedom of speech over and over again?
Sina.com, please tell us: Why did you feel that it is your right to delete blog posts? Or even your power?
Sina.com, please tell us: Why do you feel that you do not need to negotiate with (or even notify) us before you delete a blog post?
Sina.com, please tell us: Why do you even believe that willful deletion corresponds to your commercial interests?
Sina.com, please tell us: On which article of law, or which agreement, or which department's tongue-cutting order are your actions based?
Sina.com, please tell us: How dare you be so barbarous? Please state publicly your reasons for censoring.
He Weifang (贺卫方) (Peking University School of Law professor)
Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) (Huayi Law Office lawyer)
Xiao Han (萧瀚) (China University of Political Science and Law School of Law associate professor)
Xu Zhiyong (许志永) (Gongmeng Information Consultation Firm researcher)
“抱歉，您发表的文章xxx已经被系统管理员删除。给您带来的不便，我们深表歉意。如有疑问请给我们发邮件，我们收到邮件24小时内给您回复。 200x-x-x x:x:x ”