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Beijing shuts down first dissident Web site

Chinese officials call New Culture Forum counterrevolutionary

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BEIJING — The first dissident Web site in China has been shut down and police are hunting for its organizers, a human rights group and the firm that hosted the site said Tuesday.

Officials said the site, called the New Culture Forum, posted "counterrevolutionary content," according to the New York-based group, Human Rights in China.

The group described the site, which it said was run by veteran pro-democracy activists, as the first of its kind in China. Other dissident Web sites are based abroad, often in the United States.

The incident highlighted anew the conflict faced by Chinese leaders, who are promoting the Web's economic benefits while trying to block its use in spreading opposition to Communist Party rule.

The Ministry of State Security ordered the New Culture Forum shut down last Thursday, saying its content was "too sharp and anti-government," said Li Tao, manager of Million Network Co. in Beijing. He said authorities had not decided on a penalty for the company, which provides Web sites for private customers.

Li said police asked who set up the site, but he had no details besides the customer's name, Xin Wenming. The name sounds like "new culture" in Chinese.

Government computer-monitoring offices in Beijing and the eastern province of Shandong, where Human Rights in China said the site organizers live, declined comment.

Chinese officials monitor Web sites and try to block access to foreign news and politically oriented sites. Many computer users say they have found ways to evade such barriers.

Last month, a Chinese computer entrepreneur was charged with subversion for posting articles on his Web site about the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests. That site used a U.S.-based server.

Security officials appear to be struggling to keep up with the proliferation of Chinese Web sites, often hosted by private firms. The number of Chinese online is doubling every six months and reached 14.9 million in June, according to the government.

In addition, many online service firms don't monitor their customers closely, creating an opening for political activists.

Li of the Million Network Co. said police had ordered his firm to improve supervision of its Web sites and clients. He said it promised to report any "suspicious activity" in the future.

The crackdown on the New Culture Forum comes amid stepped-up efforts to control Web activity. The government has created an agency to monitor online news, and police are creating special units to patrol the Web.

At least 20 Chinese cities and provinces are creating Web police units to fight fraud and other online crime, the state-run Beijing Morning Post said Tuesday.

The newspaper did not mention political activity. But it said police would combat online pornography, and political material usually is targeted in Chinese anti-smut crackdowns.

In the eastern province of Anhui, police have helped banks tighten security and spread warnings of computer viruses, the newspaper said.