nettime's roving repoter on 11 Jan 2001 01:57:59 -0000

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<nettime> Report on global Net-censorship

Reporters Without Borders/Reporters Sans Frontières

The enemies of the Internet


Forty-five countries restrict their citizens' access to the internet -
usually by forcing them to subscribe to a state-run Internet Service
Provider (ISP). Twenty of these countries may be described as real enemies
of this new means of communication. On the pretext of protecting the
public from "subversive ideas" or defending "national security and unity",
some governments totally prevent their citizens from gaining access to the
internet. Others control a single ISP or even several, installing filters
blocking access to web sites regarded as unsuitable and sometimes forcing
users to officially register with the authorities.

The internet is a two-edged sword for authoritarian regimes. On the one
hand, it enables any citizen to enjoy an unprecedented degree of freedom
of speech and therefore constitutes a threat to the government. On the
other, however, the internet is a major factor in economic growth, due in
particular to online trade and the exchange of technical and scientific
information, which prompts some of these governments to support its
spread. The economic argument seems to be winning the day in countries
such as Malaysia and Singapore, where controlling "dangerous" sites is
proving difficult for the authorities. Moreover, web surfers can find ways
round censorship: encoding, going through servers that offer anonymity
when consulting banned sites or sending email, connecting via GSM
telephones and cellphones, and so on.

Reporters Sans Frontières has selected 20 countries that it regards as
enemies of the internet because they control access totally or partially,
have censored web sites or taken action against users. They are: the
countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus (Azerbaijan,Kazakhstan,
Kirghizia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), Belarus, Burma,
China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone,
Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Viet Nam.


In line with its repressive attitude towards other media, Alexander
Lukashenka's government does not leave its citizens free to explore the
internet independently. Access is supplied by a single ISP, Belpak, which
belongs to the state.


Censorship is total, due to a state monopoly on access. In addition, a law
passed in September 1996 obliges anyone who owns a computer to declare it
to the government. Those who fail to comply may face up to 15 years in

Central Asia and the Caucasus

In most of these countries, the authorities control or restrict internet
access. In Tajikistan, a single ISP, Telecom Technologies, owned by the
government, offers web access - and only in the capital, Dushanbe.
Turkmenistan, a "black hole" where information is concerned, offers even
more restricted access. Although there are privately owned ISPs in
Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, their operations are controlled by the
telecommunications ministry, which is responsible for chastising those who
speak out against the government. In Kazakhstan, and to a lesser extent in
Kirghizia, the authorities demand prohibitively expensive usage and
connection fees from private ISPs.


Although internet use is spreading rapidly, the government is trying to
keep up pressure on users. They are closely monitored and are supposed to
register with the authorities. In January 1999 a computer technician, Lin
Hai, was sentenced to two years in prison by a Shanghai court for giving
the email addresses of 30,000 Chinese subscribers to a dissident site that
publishes an online magazine from the United States. Meanwhile officials
fearing disturbances as the tenth anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre (4
June 1999) drew near ordered the closure of 300 cybercafÈs in Shanghai, on
the pretext that they did not have the necessary authorisation.

In order to prevent the Chinese from finding information on the web, the
authorities have blocked access to some sites. This happened to the BBC in
October 1998. Zhang Weiguo, editor of the New Century Net (
site, in Chinese, launched in the United States in 1996, estimates that it
takes two months on average for the Chinese authorities to track down the
relay server of a site and block access to it. The sites then change their
address. Some censored pages are distributed by email, like underground
newspapers that are photocopied and passed around secretly.


The government controls the internet, just as it does other media. There
is no free expression in Cuba at national level. About ten independent -
and illegal - news agencies such as Cubanet and Cuba Free Press telephone
reports to organisations based in Miami which publish them on their web
pages. But this news is still the subject of repression: in October 1998,
a foreign ministry official filed a complaint for "insult" against Mario
Viera, of the independent agency Cuba Verdad, following publication of an
article criticising him on the US-based Cubanet site. The journalist is
still awaiting trial, and faces an 18-month prison sentence if convicted.


Censorship of the internet is identical to that affecting other media and
covers the same subjects: sexuality, religion, criticism of the Islamic
Republic, any mention of Israel, the United States, and so on. Because of
the filters put in place by the authorities, access to some sites is
banned: medical students are denied access to web pages that deal with
anatomy, for instance.


People in Baghdad have no direct access to the internet. Web sites of the
official press and certains ministries are maintained by servers based in
Jordan. In any case, because of the embargo very few people own computers.


It is impossible to explore the web from Libya. The government carefully
keeps the population away from international information networks with the
aim of maintaining control of their minds.

North Korea

People in Pyongyang cannot access the internet. The government
deliberately prevents the population from seeing any news other than its
own propaganda. The few official sites aimed at foreigners (the national
news agency, newspapers and ministries) are maintained by servers located
in Japan.

Saudi Arabia

Even though 37 private companies have been given permission to operate as
ISPs, all traffic at the moment goes through the servers of the Science
and Technology Centre, a public body, which is equipped with filters
banning access to sites that provide "information contrary to Islamic
values". The internet is officially regarded as "a harmful force for
westernising people's minds".

Sierra Leone

As part of their repression of the opposition press, the authorities have
also attacked an online newspaper. In June 1999, two journalists from the
daily The Independent Observer, Abdul Rhaman Swaray and Jonathan Leigh,
were arrested. They were accused in particular of collaborating with the
online newspaper "Ninjas", which is published on a site based abroad
( by journalists who have gone into hiding.


Through Sudanet, the only ISP, the state controls the few connections to
the internet possible in this country where freedom of expression is often


Internet access is officially banned to individuals. Offenders may face a
prison sentence, just as they may for "unauthorised" contacts with
foreigners. Only official organisations are allowed access to the internet
through the public telecommunications authority, whose ISP maintains web
sites for state newspapers, the national news agency and a few ministries.


The Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) controls the two privately owned ISPs,
which are in fact connected with the authorities: one is run by President
Ben Ali's daughter and the second by another person close to the
government. Their central servers control the access of certain users. In
November 1998, following publication by Amnesty International of a report
on human rights violations, a web site with the address, deliberately designed to create confusion with
the non-government organisation, praised the president's work for human
rights. The director of the public relations agency that launched the site
- one of whose biggest customers is the Tunisian government - claimed that
he was merely coming to the country's defence. Meanwhile, access to
Amnesty International's official site was blocked by the authorities.

Viet Nam

Anyone who wants to access the internet has to ask for permission from the
interior ministry and sign up with one of the two state-owned ISPs. Access
is blocked to sites maintained by Vietnamese organisations based abroad
and international human rights organisations. On 9 June, the Police
Ministry ordered the post office to cancel the journalist Nguyen Dan Que's
Internet account, after this former political prisoner had released a
communique through the Internet calling for freedom a month earlier.


Reporters Sans Frontières calls on the governments of these 20 countries
to immediately:

- abolish the state monopoly on internet access and, where appropriate,
stop controlling private ISPs,

- cancel the obligation for citizens to register with the government
before obtaining internet access,

- abolish censorship through the use of filters, and stop blocking access
to certain sites maintained by foreign servers,

- protect the confidentiality of internet exchanges, particularly by
lifting controls on electronic mail,

- call off the legal proceedings undertaken against internet users who
have done no more than exercise their right to freedom of expression.

Reporters Sans Frontières calls on Burma, China, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Saudi
Arabia and Tajikistan to ratify and enforce the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, Article 19 of which stipulates that "everyone
shall have the right (...) to receive and impart information and ideas of
all kinds, regardless of frontiers (...)".

The organisation also asks those states that have signed the covenant
(Azerbaijan, Belarus, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Libya, North
Korea, Uzbekistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Viet Nam) to
respect the undertakings they made by doing so.

For further informations, please contact Reporters
sans frontières:

Source: Reporters Without Borders/Reporters Sans Frontières

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