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(New York) -- Human Rights Watch said today that tightening Chinese government controls on the Internet are having a chilling effect on academic freedom, commercial exchanges, and ordinary communication.

Human Rights Watch called on media and computer giants underwriting the 2008 Olympic games, as well as other Internet companies doing business in China, such as American Online, Sun Microsystems, Cisco, and Yahoo, to work toward lifting these controls.

"This is one area where human rights and corporate interests should coincide," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "More people will use Internet services, e-mail, and related technologies if they don't have to worry about getting arrested."

In a backgrounder released today, titled "Freedom of Expression and the Internet in China," Human Rights Watch reported that Chinese authorities have issued more than sixty sets of regulations to govern Internet content since the government began permitting commercial Internet accounts in 1995. The backgrounder details many of those regulations, describes recent Chinese efforts to police Internet cafes, and summarizes the cases of several people put on trial or sentenced to prison for downloading or posting politically sensitive material on the web.

"As the Olympic momentum builds, Chinese websites are going to proliferate," said Jones. "The corporate sponsors are going to have to choose between helping China open up by getting these controls removed, or abetting repression by giving the government the technology for Internet censorship. China's entry into the World Trade Organization should also give companies an incentive to press to lift these restrictions."

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