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Bahrain and Belarus named Enemies of the Internet

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, March 13 2012

Reporters without Borders released an updated report yesterday of the countries that it has designated Enemies of the Internet.

The group has added Bahrain and Belarus to the list, which already includes Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. "They combine often drastic content filtering with access restrictions, tracking of cyber-dissidents and online propaganda," the group says. "Iran and China, in particular, reinforced their technical capacity in 2011 and China stepped up pressure on privately-owned Internet companies in order to secure their collaboration."

In Bahrain, Reporters Without Borders notes that the government has arrested bloggers and netizens, one of whom died in detention, and disrupted communications during major demonstrations. Meanwhile, in Belarus, the report notes that a list of blocked websites has grown longer and longer, and the Internet was partially blocked during “silent protests.”

Some Belarusian Internet users and bloggers have been arrested while others have been invited to “preventive conversations” with the police in a bid to get them to stop demonstrating or covering demonstrations. The government has used Twitter to send messages that are meant to intimidate demonstrators, and the main ISP has diverted those trying to access the online social network Vkontakte to sites containing malware. And Law No. 317-3, which took effect on 6 January 2012, reinforced Internet surveillance and control measures.

On the positive side, the group has removed Libya from its "under surveillance" list following the end of the Gaddafi regime, as well as Venezuela, where Internet access continues to be unrestricted and the adoption of legislation that could have limited Internet freedom so far not having any effect in practice. Burma, the group says, could leave the Internet Enemies list if the government continues on its reform path of releasing journalists and bloggers and unblocking websites. "It must now go further by abandoning censorship altogether, releasing the journalists and bloggers still held, dismantling the surveillance apparatus that was built on the national Internet platform, and repealing the Electronic Act," the report says.

But many countries remain "under surveillance." In addition to more obvious cases such as Russia and Egypt, other countries still under surveillance include Australia, which has a dangerous content filtering system, and France, which has continued its "three-strikes" policy with suspension of Internet access, and administrative filtering is increasingly appearing in decrees implementing laws.

The report also notes that other countries are moving closer to being under surveillance or Internet enemies. India has been increasing its Internet surveillance after the 2008 Mumbai bombings and putting pressure on technical service providers. Kazakhstan, the report says, has gone back on previous promises and responded to an unprecedented oil strike and a major riot with control of the online information, blocked news websites and repressive Internet regulations.

Reporters Without Borders is also still monitoring Azerbaijan, Morocco and Tajikistan among other countries, in particular Pakistan, it says. "At the time of writing, Pakistan has invited private-sector companies to bid for the creation of a national Internet filtering and blocking system," the report notes. "Reporters Without Borders has asked the authorities to abandon this project, which would result in the creation of an Electronic Great Wall. If they go ahead, Pakistan could be added to the Enemies of the Internet in 2013."

The report was released on the occasion of yesterday's World Day Against Cyber-Censorship. Yesterday, Reporters Without Borders also awarded its Netizen Prize to a group of Syrian citizen journalists and activists. The Local Coordination Committees aim to ollect and disseminate, in real time, information and images of Syria’s uprising, according to Reporters Without Borders. A 28-year old Syrian activist, Jasmine, who lives in Canada, accepted the award on behalf of the activists in the country.

In addition to a map from Reporters Without Borders, the JWT Paris ad agency has created a temporary website where Internet users can virtually "tag" the embassies of countries that have been designated Enemies of the Internet.