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Reuters websites go down in China

The English and Chinese sites for the news service have been inaccessible since late Thursday, but the reason isn't clear.

Reuters is blocked in China along with other news organizations. CNET

Reuters is the latest news site to go offline in China.

Since late Thursday, Chinese users have unable to access the English or Chinese versions of Reuters news sites, the news service reported Friday. A check at GreatFire.org, which monitors the accessibility of websites in China, showed Reuters as blocked both Thursday and Friday.

Reuters had no explanation for why its sites were down. But it did say that the sites of major news organizations sometimes become inaccessible in China "often after the publication of stories on issues about which the Chinese government is sensitive." Besides Reuters, the sites for Bloomberg News, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have been offline in China for some time, according to checks at GreatFire.

A spokeswoman for Reuters confirmed to CNET that its sites are still down in China but declined to offer any further comment on the matter.

China does have a history of blocking sites that run afoul of its desire to censor certain information from its citizens. But a check of recent Reuters stories dealing with China showed none that would seem to raise red flags in the Chinese government. That begs the question of whether the inaccessibility of Reuters in China is due to a specific action by Reuters or is part of a larger trend of China blocking news organizations.

The latter seems the more likely explanation, according to the co-founder of GreatFire, who goes by the pseudonym of Charlie Smith.

"As you have said, most of the big news sites are blocked so obviously it is part of an overall trend," Smith told CNET. "I think that it is easier to count the number of foreign news sites that are not blocked than the blocked ones. Reuters was blocked before, then got unblocked, then got blocked again."

GreatFire, which also is critical of the Chinese government, has been the victim of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks this week. Such attacks are designed to bring down a website by sending it more requests than it can handle.

In a blog posted on Thursday, GreatFire said that the DDoS attacks are likely due to a Wednesday Wall Street Journal story. The story highlighted cloud-based services designed to improve the performance of websites by storing their data on remote servers. But activists say these sites are being used to tunnel through China's so-called Great Firewall, according to the Journal.

GreatFire itself uses mirror sites that reportedly rely on such cloud-based services to offer copies of Google, an uncensored version of Chinese microblog site Weibo and a website called Boxun that often criticizes the Chinese government, a person who identified himself as the spokesman for Greatfire, told the Journal.

Smith also speculated that Reuters may be about to release a big story following the ban of its own sites.

"Maybe the [Chinese] authorities figured that our mirror of Reuters was still active (it is not)," Smith said. "I'd turn the switch on again except we are kind of short on funds and if Reuters did publish some massive story then we might be the ones who have to pay for that success."

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which regulates China's Internet, did not immediately respond to Reuters' request for comment.

"Reuters is committed to practicing fair and accurate journalism worldwide," a Reuters spokeswoman said in a statement. "We recognize the great importance of news about China to all our customers, and we hope that our sites will be restored in China soon."