By Jane Macartney, of The Times, in Beijing
A former Chinese university professor who was dismissed after he founded a democratic opposition party, plans to sue Yahoo! and Google in the United States for blocking his name from search results in China.
Guo Quan, an expert on classical Chinese literature and the 1937 Nanjing massacre of Chinese civilians by Japanese troops, last week issued an open letter pledging to bring a lawsuit against Google after he discovered that his name had been excised in searches of its google.cn portal in China.
He told The Times that he had now found that the Chinese Yahoo! site had also blocked his name and he planned to bring actions against both companies. Mr Guo said: “Since January 1 a lot of friends told me that websites with my name had been closed. They told me it's impossible to search for my information on Google and Yahoo!”
It is not the first incidence of censorship of foreign internet portals operating in China. Google came in for widespread criticism and accusations of colluding when it became known that its search engine in China had been configured to filter out words that are effectively banned in China, such as Tibet independence, Dalai Lama and democracy.
Google and other foreign internet service providers defend their actions, saying that they are acting in accordance with Chinese law and the conditions of doing business in China. The country's carefully patrolled internet firewall slows, blocks or disrupts users trying to access uncensored foreign websites. Mr Guo said that he could not sue Google or Yahoo! in China since they have no formal legal identity, but he would press his lawsuits against the parent companies in the United States. “They have infringed my right to my name, and also the rights of anyone called Guo Quan because you can find no information for this name.
“They have violated my political rights. I am opposed to violence and dictatorship but these sites have blocked me.”
Last year Mr Guo threw down a gauntlet to the ruling Communist Party by declaring that he was acting as the chairman of the underground New People's Party and claimed 10 million members at home and abroad. He posted open letters to President Hu Jintao demanding multi-party elections and the depoliticisation of the People's Liberation Army. His blog was closed by the Chinese cyber-police.
His employer has demoted him to work in the university archives for violating the Chinese Constitution, which stipulates that China must be ruled “under the leadership of the Communist Party”.
Mr Guo did not mince words in his open letter. “To make money, Google has become a servile Pekinese dog wagging its tail at the heels of the Chinese communists,” he wrote.
He could understand why search the engine Baidu.com, a Chinese company and the locally controlled arm of portal Yahoo!, could have been coerced by the Government to block his name, he said, but it was unacceptable for foreign companies to follow suit. He said that he had noticed in the past few days that he could find 700 results in a search on his name, but that there should be tens of thousands of results if the two characters for his name were unblocked.
He told The Times that he would persist with his lawsuit. “Through this I hope that the world will become more concerned to resolve human rights issues in China. The freedom of the internet should be realised all over the world.”