updated 12/8/2006 11:14:18 AM ET 2006-12-08T16:14:18

China, which jails more journalists than any other nation, is challenging the view that information on the Internet is impossible to control, and the implications for press freedom could be far-reaching, a New York-based rights group said.

At least 31 journalists are behind bars in China, making it the world’s leading jailer of reporters for the eighth year in a row, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in its annual survey released Thursday.

Three out of four of the journalists were convicted under vague charges of subversion or revealing state secrets, and more than half were Internet journalists.

China encourages Internet use for business and education but tightly controls Web content, censoring anything it considers critical of — or a threat to — the Communist Party.

‘Far-ranging implications’
Blogs are often shut down, and those who post articles promoting Western-style democracy and freedom are routinely detained and jailed under subversion charges.

“China is challenging the notion that the Internet is impossible to control or censor, and if it succeeds there will be far-ranging implications, not only for the medium but for press freedom all over the world,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement Thursday.

Shi Tao, a former journalist for the Dangdai Shangbao or Contemporary Business Newspaper in the central province of Hunan, was sentenced last year to 10 years on charges of leaking state secrets.

Shi, 37, was alleged to have e-mailed the contents of a secret official memo about media restrictions to the U.S.-based Democracy Forum Web site.

Journalism activists criticized Yahoo Inc. after it emerged that the company had given prosecutors e-mail from Shi’s account.

Li Yuanlong, a reporter for the Bijie Daily newspaper in the southern city of Bijie, was convicted in July of inciting subversion and sentenced to two years in prison after he posted essays on foreign Web sites.

His essays, written under the pen name Ye Lang or “Night Wolf,” included “On Becoming an American in Spirit” and “The Banal Nature of Life and the Lamentable Nature of Death.”

They were published on sites banned in China, including Boxun News, the Falun Gong-affiliated Epoch Times, ChinaEWeekly, and New Century Net, according to earlier reports.

Last week, a Beijing court took five minutes to reject an appeal, made by New York Times researcher Zhao Yan, against his three-year prison sentence.

Political vendetta?
Zhao had been convicted of fraud, but press advocacy groups saw his case as a political vendetta for his pre-Times career as a crusading investigative reporter — and as a warning to Chinese reporters.

The survey found the total number of journalists jailed worldwide had risen to 134 as of Dec. 1 — nine more than a year earlier.

Cuba was the second biggest jailer of journalists, with 24 reporters in prison. Nearly all had filed their reports to overseas-based Web sites. Eritrea, which has imprisoned 23 journalists, was third.

The United States tied for seventh place on the list, having jailed three journalists.

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