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China Fines Man Over $144,000 After He Used a VPN

If you’re tired of censorship and surveillance, join Reclaim The Net.

In a precedent-setting verdict, a programmer identified by his surname, Ma, from northern China has been slapped with a fine exceeding 1m yuan by the authorities for using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), marking a stark example of the stern measures taken to uphold China’s great firewall. This sets a new record for the harshest financial penalty ever imposed on an individual for bypassing the nation’s stringent internet censorship regime.

Chengde’s Public Security Bureau in Hebei province held Ma accountable on 18th August for using “unauthorized channels” to connect to worldwide networks while being employed by a Turkish firm.

The authorities confiscated Ma’s earnings of 1.058m yuan ($144,871.96), which he’d accrued from September 2019 to November 2022, labeling it as “illegal income.” Along with this, he was fined an additional 200 yuan ($30).

Shining a spotlight on the erosion of free speech and blatant censorship in China, Ma’s case exemplifies the lengths to which the state will go to muzzle the open exchange of ideas and information. Ma expressed on Weibo that he was initially approached by the police approximately a year ago, under the belief that he was responsible for a Twitter account under investigation. The account, according to Ma, was not his.

VPNs, a lifeline for ordinary citizens striving for information access in the face of the great firewall, are existing in a legal soup. Officially, the government has green-lighted VPN usage for commercial purposes. However, the narrowing leeway for VPN usage signals a sinister trend, as in recent times, firm steps have been taken to restrict access, and even penalize its usage in specific instances.

If you’re tired of censorship and surveillance, join Reclaim The Net.

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