A seller of Virtual Private Network (VPN) services has been sentenced in China for running an "illegal" business. It marks the most severe sentence yet to be handed out for helping users evade China's internet filters.
The Chinese government's bid to clamp down on internet tools that circumvent the so-called "Great Firewall" was strengthened Friday after one local entrepreneur was sentenced to five-and-a-half years' prison for selling virtual private network (VPN) services.
Wu Xiangyang also was fined 500,000 yuan (€64,000, $76,000) by a court in the southern region of Guangxi for illegally running his business without a license between 2013 and June this year, according to government newspaper Procuratorate Daily.
According to local reports, Wu collected some 792,638 yuan in "illegal revenue" in the time he ran the service.
China's VPN crackdown
VPNs allow internet users to access regionally blocked websites by filtering their traffic through servers located in other countries.
Their usage has for years been widespread among China's 730 million internet users.
The government restricts locals from accessing online
Read more: Facebook sneaks into China's online market
Wu's arrest follows an announcement by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) earlier this year that it was banning the sale of unlicensed VPN services.
One of most China's most popular services, Green VPN, told customers in June it had been ordered to close down. Many others have also shut without warning.
Meanwhile, US tech giants such as Apple and Amazon have reportedly limited their customers' access to such tools in what is widely seen as a move to appease the Chinese government and get ahead of any further online crackdowns.
dm/jil (AP, AFP, dpa)