China Shutters 3,300 Cybercafes

China has closed more than 3,300 Internet cafes in a safety crackdown
launched after a fire in June at a cafe killed 25 people, according to
published reports.

Officials had inspected about 45,000 Internet cafes in the past six months.
Operations of nearly 12,000 of them had been suspended pending improvements
and more than 3,300 were permanently closed.

The fatal fire in Beijing’s university district came amid calls for the
cafes closings because they were unlicensed and had no fire exits or other
required safety features. Officials griped the impromptu establishments
also gave young people access to pornography and other explicit material

Unlicensed Internet cafes appeal to patrons seeking lower-priced Web
services by evading taxes mandated by the Ministry of Information Industry
(MII), the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Culture, and the
State Administration of Industry and Commerce.

But the tightening also comes from officials in the country’s communist
government who intend to control how Chinese use the Internet. The
government wages a sort of veiled information dissemination war:
currently, filters block Web surfers from seeing sites abroad run by Chinese
dissidents, human rights groups and media organizations.

Under new rules that took effect Nov. 15, minors are banned from Internet
cafes, while managers are required to keep records of patrons’ identities
and to close by midnight.

The two teenage boys accused of setting the June fire in Beijing were
sentenced to life in prison. Authorities said they had argued with cafe
employees about Web surfing in the cafe.

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