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Copyright 1998 International Herald Tribune  
International Herald Tribune (Neuilly-sur-Seine, France)

November 17, 1998, Tuesday

SECTION: News; Pg. 2

LENGTH: 495 words

HEADLINE: China Asserts Shanghai Man Used Internet For Subversion

BYLINE: By Erik Eckholm; New York Times Service



The trial of a 30-year-old computer executive, soon to begin in Shanghai, heralds a new electronic battleground for China's political dissidents and security forces determined to preserve Communist Party control.

The defendant, Lin Hai, is charged with ''inciting subversion of state power.'' Prosecutors say that from September 1997 until his arrest in March, Mr. Lin gave tens of thousands of Chinese e-mail addresses to ''hostile foreign publications.''

In particular, they say, he provided addresses to an electronic newsletter called VIP Reference, which is compiled by Chinese democracy advocates in Washington and sent to hundreds of thousands of computer-users inside China. According to the indictment, Mr. Lin helped the newsletter ''carry out propaganda and incitement by distributing essays inciting subversion of state power and overthrow of the socialist system.''

Mr. Lin appears to be the first legal casualty of a growing struggle, as Internet users here and abroad make shreds of the government's efforts to censor political debate and filter foreign news. VIP Reference is the most prominent of several electronic forums that are breaching China's information defenses.

''We're promoting freedom of speech on the Internet,'' said Feng Donghai, a software engineer at Columbia University in New York. He moved to the United States three years ago and helped start VIP Reference last fall. ''They are putting Lin Hai on trial to set an example.''

The main VIP Reference, sent out every 10 days, mostly includes essays and debates on democratic topics. A subsidiary Daily News edition, sent daily, includes detailed accounts of dissident initiatives and arrests.

The main newsletter is now sent to more than 250,000 addresses in China, said its publisher, Lian Shengde, who spoke from Washington. The Daily News edition goes to about 25,000, and the numbers are steadily climbing as sympathizers send in lists of Chinese addresses.

The newsletter accepts addresses indiscriminately - many are from commercially traded lists - then mails to everyone. The theory is that when so many are automatic recipients, individuals cannot be accused of deliberately subscribing.

''We're posing a new problem for the Communists,'' said Mr. Lian, a software engineer in his 30s who moved from China after the 1989 military crackdown on student-led demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. ''I don't think there's any way they can stop us.''

Another, similar publication is Tunnel, a self-described ''webzine'' of commentary written in China and sent electronically to the United States from where it is wired back to thousands of accounts inside China.

The sites, which require Chinese-script software, are at www.ifcss.org/ftp- pub/org/dck for VIP Reference and www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Bay/5598 for Tunnel.

China now has some 1.2 million Internet accounts, many shared by several users, with the numbers zooming.


LOAD-DATE: November 17, 1998

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