China punishes man for accessing 'foreign internet' in ongoing VPN crackdown

China has fined one of its citizens for using a virtual private network (VPN) to access foreign-based websites.

The Chinese man, identified as Zhu Yunfeng from the city of Shaoguan in Guangdong province, had used a VPN app called Lantern to surf the websites. According to The Financial Times, Zhu was fined 1,000 yuan ($145), which is a fifth of the average monthly wage in China.

Zhu was punished under a 1997 public security law that forbids access to the 'foreign internet' without permission. Similarly, in 2018, Pan Xidian, a man from the southern city of Nan’an in Fujian province, was sentenced to 15 days in jail for using a VPN and writing ‘inappropriate’ posts on Twitter.

Foreign social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, are blocked in China, which means users must use VPNs to circumvent the firewall, while most foreign websites take a longer time to load, compared to their Chinese counterparts.

China has cracked down on VPNs in recent years, introducing another law in 2017 which stipulated that only government-approved providers could operate VPNs, leading Apple to remove 674 VPNs from its Chinese App Store.

That means companies like Publicis.Sapient have to buy costly state-owned VPN services to push social media messages for its China-based clients like Huawei.