[By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]
The US-based Human Rights Watch organization has issued its annual World Report, commenting on human rights conditions worldwide over the past year.
Once again Human Rights Watch criticizes China, accusing it of making "minimal significant progress". However, the report is blind to China's significant achievements in developing the Internet as a platform for public discourse, instead it censures and discredits freedom of speech in China.
With the world's largest population of Internet users, China has witnessed the fastest growing Internet community in the world. No country comes close to it either in the number of Internet users or in the development speed of its cyberspace. The Internet plays an increasingly important and irreplaceable role not only in promoting economic growth, but also in the democratization of China.
The government's great achievements and efforts in developing the Internet have not only stimulated the country's economic growth but also granted more citizens access to the communication platform, making it possible for a growing number of people to participate in discussions on a wide range of public affairs and emergent incidents, and enabling them to play a role in the seeking, accepting and spreading of all kinds of information and thoughts.
The Internet is enabling more people to enjoy and exercise their right to freedom of expression and right to know as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you. The core value of this "golden rule" of human rights protection is that one should not use his or her own freedom and rights to harm or infringe the freedom and rights of others, or use them to upset public order or social conventions. The healthy development of the Internet depends on the legal administration and guidance of the information that flows through cyberspace and effective regulations to curb misbehavior and illegal actions online. In this process the government, enterprises and Internet users all have their corresponding duties. The government should implement rules and regulations according to the real needs and practical conditions of the industry and punish any violators. These are the governments' due responsibilities and obligations.
Meanwhile, Internet users should abide by the terms of service laid out by the providers of Internet services and pay attention to their online actions, especially their posting of information and thoughts that might harm or infringe the freedom and rights of others, or undermine public order or social conventions. When individual users do not care about the authenticity and legality of the information they post, the information will not only mislead other Internet users, it will also affect the quality of the services provided by the enterprises concerned and damage their public image.
The providers of Internet services have the obligation and right to exercise legal checks and guidance on the information uploaded through their servers according to their service contracts with consumers. As long as the enterprises act in accordance with the law the ties between them and their customers can be classified as rights-and-obligations relations between equal subjects. Even if the practices of the enterprises relate to freedom of speech, their legal actions cannot be defined as interference with freedom of speech.
The World Report issued by Human Rights Watch is seriously lacking in factual evidence and intentionally distorts and misreads some phenomena in China during the past year that are related to freedom of speech. The report's authors have taken great pains to fudge their annual homework.
The author is a lecturer at the Communication University of China.