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China blocks YouTube, again

New report says China scores lowest on Internet freedom.

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The Internet is justly said to be the freest space available for self expression in China.

Yet a report (PDF) released Wednesday finds the Chinese Internet to be the least free of 15 countries studied, tying for bottom place with Cuba.

Though China is home to nearly 300 million Internauts, more than anywhere else, "the country's Internet environment remains one of the most controlled in the world," says the report by Freedom House, a New York-based human rights group.

Blocking foreign websites is a common tactic: YouTube has been inaccessible for most of the past week, since Tibetan exiles posted a film showing Chinese militarized policemen savagely beating Tibetan monks and civilians. The video-sharing site has been blocked before.

The government also jails citizens who use the Internet for unapproved purposes: Last Saturday Tan Zuoren, who was compiling an Internet list of child victims of last year's Sichuan earthquake, was arrested and charged with "subversion of state policies," according to the Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

Still, netizens are constantly finding ways around censorship, pushing the envelope on what is tolerated, and making the Internet "a primary source of news and a forum for discussion for many Chinese," the Freedom House report says.

"Netizens' energy is always there," says Xiao Qiang, editor of China Digital Times, which monitors the Chinese web. "It's like a river; you can block it in one place and it flows somewhere else." [Editor's note: .]

The Chinese web presents a paradox, adds Rebecca Mackinnon, a web expert at Hong Kong University. "You can point to examples of how speech is getting freer on the Internet and to examples of how it is tightening, simultaneously," she says.

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