Blogger "Yetaai" had his day in court on Friday. He is suing China Telecom for blocking his website promoting a piece of open source financial accounting software. He has written an English account as well as a Chinese account of the trial. John Kennedy has also posted a translation on Global Voices.
Chinese Internet users have found various ways to protest the "Great Firewall of China," but this appears to be the first attempt to use the courts to force ISP's to admit that censorship is happening. Since Yetaai's website had no political content on it, the blockage of his website was likely a result of what is called "over-blocking." He is suing for restoration of access to his site or for anacceptable explanation for the block - beyond the explanation of "irreversible reasons," that he received when he first complained to customer service. He is also demanding compensation for notary fees and refund of broadband fees, given that the broadband service provided was unacceptable.
Writing in English about his lawsuit back in early May, Yetaai wrote this about its larger meaning:
Can we improve the Chinese Constitution to contain a statement that the government should protect the human right to know the truth or approaches to the truth?
If censorship is unavoidable, how it can be monitored and made transparent? With monitoring and transparency, errors can be corrected. Certainly, China Telecom should have an official (and helpful) answer. With one, I could learn why I am blocked and to whom I can ask in order to recover access from China to my website.
In June, Yetaai posted more details on the case along with a scan of the notarized documents he submitted as part of his lawsuit. This page shows a screenshot of the China Telecom advertising page that appeared when he attempted to visit his website on his broadband connection without using a proxy server. This page shows his website, realcix.com, as it appeared when visited via proxy server. This page shows the traceroute he performed, although unfortunately it's too small to read, but he says that the traceroute "demonstrates that the router is inside China Telecom." The notarized description of what happened is here and here. He also added links to these scanned pages to his original English post about the case.
Based on his description of Friday's proceedings, it appears that China Telecom seeks to win on technical grounds, casting doubt on Yetaai's evidence and challenging the legitimacy of the notary process he used. If they succeed with that line of argument, assuming that the case proceeds in a logical manner, then they won't need to resort to the next line of defense: that the censorship was either not their responsibility or beyond their control. If they have to make either of those arguments then, as one commenter points out, "if you force [them] to admit the GFW ["great firewall"] exists, you will have won, making it easier for the masses to push it over."
Which is of course why Yetaai's lawyer is not optimistic about winning the case.
If you read Chinese and want a good laugh read this comment. It concludes: "Some say that China ranks third in the world at blocking IP addresses. Why are we only third? We should be number one. Long live the GFW."