A Chinese government official yesterday defended the nation's right to censor information on the web, and said no individual has been arrested for "just releasing a comment on the internet", according to state media reports.

Liu Zhengrong, deputy chief of the Internet Affairs Bureau of the State Council Information Office, argued that China's efforts to control the internet are no different from those of Western countries. "After studying internet legislation in the West, I've found we basically have identical legislative objectives and principles," Liu said, quoted in one report.

Despite Liu's assertion that no Chinese internet users have been jailed for posting online, such information has been obtained from Yahoo and used to build cases against users jailed for leaking state secrets and inciting subversion.

Yahoo, Google and Microsoft's MSN division have come under scrutiny recently over their operations in China. Google has taken heat for offering a censored version of its search engine for China, while MSN was criticised for removing a blog written by a Chinese journalists.

Liu challenged critics of the country's internet censorship efforts. "It is unfair and smacks of double standards when [they] criticise China for deleting illegal and harmful messages while it is legal for US websites to do so," he said, adding that foreign internet companies are bound to follow China's laws when operating in the country.

Liu's comments came one day before the US House of Representative's Subcommittee on Global Human Rights, Africa and International Operations plans to hold hearings regarding how US internet companies operate in China. Representatives from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Cisco and Reporters Without Borders are expected to attend those hearings, scheduled for today.

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