China jails man selling VPNs to circumvent its ‘Great Firewall’

China’s notorious internet censorship doesn’t appear to be loosening anytime soon as a man gets nine months in jail for selling VPNs.

The recently unveiled court decision revealed Deng Jiewei, a 26-year-old man from Dongguan, was sentenced for selling two VPN services on his website. He reportedly made nearly 14,000 yuan (£1642) before he was detained by police last August.

While Jiewei was sentenced in March, the court documents only circulated on Chinese social media recently.

Renewed focus on internet control

The sentencing has left many Chinese internet users concerned about their own use of VPN services. During my occasional visits to China, there’s often been a feeling the government turns a blind eye to their usage. This case may indicate a crackdown.

"If selling a VPN means a conviction for 'providing software and tools for invading and illegally controlling the computer information system,' then everyone here who uses a VPN to evade the Great Firewall can also be convicted of illegally invading or illegally controlling the computer information system, right?" reads one Weibo commented noted by South China Morning Post.

Earlier today, our sister publication The Block reported China has banned ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings). While it could be unrelated, this also suggests China is having a renewed focus on internet control and going after those which attempt to circumvent it.

Back in January, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced a crackdown against unauthorised VPNs used to conduct business across borders. The municipal government of Chongqing, meanwhile, published rules which state internet users profiting from VPNs could face a fine of up to 15,000 yuan.

If you’re in the West and never traveled to China, enjoy the relative web freedoms you have. China is beautiful, and a visit comes recommended, but you don’t realise how good you have it until sites you take for granted such as Google (and its various services) are inaccessible.

What do you think about China’s web censorship? Let us know in the comments.

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