A man in southern China was sentenced to 5 and a half years in prison for selling a virtual private network to bypass Internet censorship, amid Beijing’s crackdown to enforce his infamous “Great Firewall.”
Wu Xiangyang, of the Guangxi Autonomous Region, also received a fine of 500,000 yuan (US $ 76,000) in Pingnan County for not having the corresponding license for his VPN business, according to a report on Wednesday in the Procuratorate Daily, the gazette of the significant prosecution and inspection agency.
He was suspected of running the VPN service, which redirects Internet traffic to other locations, from 2013 to June this year, providing modified software and routers to help people access restricted foreign websites in China, according to the report.
At that time, Wu’s business brought 792,638 yuan in revenue and about 500,000 yuan in “illegal” profits, he said.
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His VPN was marketed on his website, the popular Taobao shopping site and on social networking sites as a service that could access restricted sites on the continent such as Facebook, Google and Gmail. The website has been removed. Taobao is owned by Alibaba, which also owns the South China Morning Post.
The company claimed on Twitter in March last year that 8,000 foreigners and 5,000 corporations use their VPN services to explore blocked websites in China.
Wu’s ruling comes after Beijing announced a 14-month “clean-up” campaign in January to crack down on illegal tools used to bypass Internet censorship.
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VPNs are a favourite way to access sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and foreign news websites that may contain content that criticises the ruling Communist Party and cannot be accessed on the continent.
Another man, Deng Jiewei, was sentenced to nine months in prison in March for selling unauthorised VPNs on his website.
It is not illegal to sell VPN software in China, but it requires that these companies register with the authorities. Users of these circumvention tools can also be targeted, with the Chongqing government issuing regulations earlier this year that would see people fined up to 15,000 yuan for using “illegal channels” to bypass the Great Firewall.
The repression of China’s Internet has had a disheartening effect on VPN users and has led domestic providers such as GreenVPN and Haibei VPN to suspend their operations earlier this year.