China tightens rules on Internet cafes

Cybercafes in China that admit three or more underage patrons will have their licences revoked under the government's latest effort to tighten controls on web access in the world's largest online market.

The measure will also be applied to establishments that give rise to "major malignant cases" through admitting any number of underage customers - those under 18 - according to the rules posted on the culture ministry's website.

The new regulations, posted on Tuesday, did not specify what would constitute a "major malignant case."

China has taken a number of steps in recent years to tighten the screws on Internet cafes as it struggles to keep pace with an explosion in the country's online population, now at 384 million.

The campaign has been framed by the government as a bid to protect the nation's youth from "malignant" online content.

However, critics say it also is meant to block access to information deemed politically sensitive by ruling Communist Party authorities.

China has more than 81,000 Internet cafes with 4.7 million computers.

Last month, Yan Qi, a member of China's national legislative advisory body, made waves by voicing support for a nationwide ban on Internet cafes.

Angry hackers subsequently paralysed the website of the restaurant chain she owns, according to state media reports.

Communist authorities operate a vast system of censorship dubbed the "Great Firewall of China" that blocks access to content seen as politically or morally unacceptable.

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