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On 20 January, Lin Hai, a software entrepreneur charged with attempting to overthrow the state by providing e-mail addresses to a dissident Chinese magazine, was sentenced to two years in prison, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Human Rights Watch (HRW). At his December trial in Shanghai, Lin was accused of "inciting the overthrow of state power" by giving 30,000 e-mail addresses of Chinese residents to "VIP Reference", a United States-based on-line pro-democracy magazine. According to CPJ, "He is the first person imprisoned in China on charges of subversion growing out of Internet use." Lin's wife, Xu Hong, has been barred from seeing Lin since his arrest and detention on 25 March 1998. His short trial on 4 December was closed to the public.

HRW urges major Internet service providers such as Microsoft, America On-Line, and AT&T to publicly condemn the sentence. "This harsh punishment reflects the Chinese government's anxiety about growing use of the Internet, and its own inability to control information flows," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "It warrants a strong response, not just from human rights organizations but from the computer software industry as well, particularly from companies trying to expand the market for Internet usage." The Chinese government has recently tried to increase the monitoring of e-mail communications. Chinese authorities, who control access to the Internet through the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, often block access to foreign media and human rights web sites, including Human Rights Watch. [Updates IFEX "Communique" #7-48.]

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