Thursday, January 12, 2006

The 15 enemies of the Internet

This is an article from Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontiers).

The 15 “enemies” are the countries that crack down hardest on the Internet, censoring independent news sites and opposition publications, monitoring the Web to stifle dissident voices, and harassing, intimidating and sometimes imprisoning Internet users and bloggers who deviate from the regime’s official line.

The 15 enemies of the Internet (in alphabetical order)

- Belarus
The regime uses its monopoly of the communications system to block access to opposition websites when it chooses, especially at election time. President Alexander Lukashenko dislikes criticism, as shown by the harassment in August 2005 of youngsters who were posting satirical cartoons online.
- Burma
This country is among the very worst enemies of Internet freedom and in many ways its policies are worse than China’s. The price of computers and a home Internet connection is prohibitive so Internet cafés are the target of the military regime’s scrutiny. As in neighbouring Vietnam and China, access to opposition sites is systematically blocked, in this case with technology supplied by the US firm Fortinet. Burma’s censorship is special - Web-based e-mail, such as Yahoo ! or Hotmail, cannot be used and all Internet café computers record every five minutes the screen being consulted, to spy on what customers are doing.
- China
China was one the first repressive countries to grasp the importance of the Internet and of controlling it. It is also one of the few countries that has managed to “sanitise” the Internet by blocking access to all criticism of the regime while at the same time expanding it (China has more than 130 million users). The secret of this success is a clever mix of filter technology, repression and diplomacy. Along with effective spying and censorship technology, the regime is also very good at intimidating users and forcing them to censor their own material. China is the world’s biggest prison for cyber-dissidents, with 62 in prison for what they posted online.
- Cuba
President Fidel Castro’s regime has long been good at tapping phones and these days is just as skilled when it comes to the Internet. The Chinese model of expanding the Internet while keeping control of it is too costly, so the regime has simply put the Internet out of reach for virtually the entire population. Being online in Cuba is a rare privilege and requires special permission for the ruling Communist Party. When a user does manage to get connected, often illegally, it is only to a highly-censored version of the Internet.
- Iran
The information ministry boasts that it currently blocks access to hundreds of thousands of websites, especially those dealing in any way with sex but also those providing any kind of independent news. A score of bloggers were thrown in prison between autumn 2004 and summer 2005. One of them, Mojtaba Saminejad, 23, has been held since February 2005 and was given a two-year sentence in June for supposedly insulting the country’s Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
- Libya
With nearly a million people online (about a sixth of the population), Libya could be a model of Internet expansion in the Arab world. But it has no independent media, so the Internet is controlled, with access blocked to dissident exile sites by filters installed by the regime, which is also now targeting cyber-dissidents, with the January 2005 arrest of former bookseller Abdel Razak al-Mansouri, who posted satirical articles on a London-based website. He was sentence in October to 18 months in prison for supposed “illegal possession of a gun.”
- The Maldives
The archipelago is a paradise for tourists but a nightmare for cyber-dissidents. The 25-year regime of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom cracks down harshly on freedom of expression. Several opposition websites are filtered and one of four people arrested in 2002 is still in prison for helping to produce an e-mailed newsletter. A British company, Cable & Wireless, controls Internet access in the country.
- Nepal King
Gyanendra’s first reflex when he seized power in February 2005 was to cut off Internet access to the outside world. It has since been restored, but the regime continues to control it and most online opposition publications, especially those seen as close to the Maoist rebels, have been blocked inside the country. Bloggers discussing politics or human rights do so under constant pressure from the authorities.
- North Korea
The country is the most closed-off in the world and the government, which has total control of the media, refused until recently to be connected to the Internet. Only a few thousand privileged people have access to it and then only to a heavily-censored version, including about 30 sites praising the regime. Among these is, which has photos and adulation of the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il and his late father Kim Il Sung.
- Saudi Arabia
The government agency in charge of “cleaning up” the Web, the Internet Service Unit (ISU), boasts that it currently bars access to nearly 400,000 sites with the aim of protecting citizens from content that is offensive or violates Islamic principles and social standards. The sites blocked deal mainly with sex, politics or religion (except those about Islam that are approved by the regime). This censorship regularly affects blogging, and was made inaccessible for several days in October 2005.
- Syria
The accession to power of President Bashar el-Assad in 2000 raised hopes of greater freedom of expression, but these were disappointed. The regime restricts Internet access to a minority of privileged people, filters the Web and very closely monitors online activity. A Kurdish journalism student is in prison for posting photos on a foreign-based site of a demonstration in Damascus. Another Internet user was freed in August 2005 after more than two years in prison for simply passing by e-mail on a foreign-produced newsletter. Both were tortured in prison.
- Tunisia
President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, whose family has a monopoly on Internet access inside the country, has installed a very effective system of censoring the Internet. All opposition publications are blocked, along with many other news sites. The regime also tries to discourage use of webmail because it is harder to spy on than standard mail programmes that use Outlook. The Reporters Without Borders site cannot be seen inside Tunisia. The government also jails cyber-dissidents and in April 2005, pro-democracy lawyer Mohammed Abbou was given a three-and-a-half-year sentence for criticising the president online. Yet Tunisia seems well thought-of by the international community for its management of the Internet since it has been chosen the International Telecommunication Union to host the second stage of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in November 2005.
- Turkmenistan
No independent media exists here under the dictatorship of megalomaniac Stalinist President Neparmurad Nyazov. As in Cuba and North Korea, the regime takes a radical attitude to the Internet and keeps virtually all citizens away from it, with home connections not allowed. There are no Internet cafés and the Web is only accessible through certain companies and international organisations. Even when connected, it is only to a censored version of the Internet.
- Uzbekistan
President Islam Karimov proclaimed the “era of the Internet” in his country in May 2001. Online facilities have expanded rapidly but so has censorship of them. The state security service frequently asks ISPs to temporarily block access to opposition sites. Since June 2005, some Internet cafés in the capital have displayed warnings that users will be fined 5,000 soms (4 euros) for looking at pornographic sites and 10,000 (8 euros) for consulting banned political sites.
- Vietnam
The country closely follows the Chinese method of controlling the Internet, but though more ideologically rigid, the regime does not have the money and technology China has to do this. It has Internet police who filter out “subversive” content and spy on cybercafés. Cyber-dissidents are thrown in prison and three have been in jail for more than three years for daring to speak out online in favour of democracy.


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