RSF examines “Internet enemies” of the world in new report

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has released a new report on Internet censorship and clampdowns on advocates of free speech in twenty-two countries around the world. RSF has singled out the world’s twelve biggest “Internet enemies”- countries where the national authorities have imposed particularly aggressive measures on web censorship and dissident Internet writers. Four of RSF’s “Internet enemies” are Arab countries.
RSF's webpage for the world's biggest internet enemies. © RSF

BEIRUT, March 16, 2009 (MENASSAT) - In the report titled, “Enemies of the Internet,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accused authorities in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Tunisia, of “transforming their Internet into an Intranet,” in an effort to hinder the public from accessing online information deemed “undesirable” by the national government.

The four Arab states, along with Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, are the top countries that allegedly practice the most extensive Internet censorship in the world, earning RSF’s title “Internet enemies.”

RSF’s report states that the web censorship practiced in these countries is often based on a government policy of "protecting morals," "national security," religion and ethnic minorities. 

In Saudi Arabia, a special governmental commission was established in 2008 to tackle terrorism, fraud, pornography, defamation and “violation of religious values” on the Internet.

In Tunisia, bloggers have become fed up with the strict web censorship policies of President President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to the extent that they organized a “day against blog censorship” last year.

Even social networking sites like Dailymotion, YouTube and Facebook are regularly filtered in Tunisia because of content critical of Ben Ali’s policies. Sites and emails belonging to Tunisian human rights activists have allegedly been hacked and put under surveillance.

Syria has blocked more than 160 websites deemed critical of the government, as well as social media sites such as Facebook, Skype, YouTube, and the popular blog platform blogspot.

In addition to the 22 countries that were examined in the report, RSF has put another 10 governments “under surveillance” due to “worrying measures” that they could pave the way for crackdowns on free speech.

RSF voiced particular concern about Australia and South Korea, where the group says recent measures may come to threaten online free expression.

Bloggers in detainment

Web censorship aside, RSF also accused the twelve countries of continuous harassment and persecution of dissident Internet writers.

“All these countries distinguish themselves not only by their ability to censor online news and information but also by their virtually systematic persecution of troublesome Internet users,”  RSF wrote in a press release.

In Saudi Arabia, writers publishing “content that is offensive or violates the principles of the Islamic religion and social norms” have allegedly been subject to arrest.

In 2008, prominent Saudi blogger Fouad Al-Farhan was detained for several months without official charges after he posted writings on his blog about the “advantages” and “disadvantages” of being a Muslim.

In neighboring Syria, five cyber-dissidents are currently behind bars for their web writings.

One of them, 23- year old Tarek Biassi, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2008 for “publishing false information” and “weakening national sentiment” online.

What was Biassi’s crime? Posting a six-word long comment on an Internet forum that criticized the Syrian security services.

Following in the footsteps of Syria, Egyptian cyber-dissidents such as the April 6 movement are more often facing higher risks of battling the government as they become more bold in their online criticism of the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

In 2006, Egypt referred its first cyber dissident to prison. Student-blogger Kareem Amer had posed criticism towards his religious teachers at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, among other things, on his blog and ended up being sentenced to four years in prison for insulting Islam and Mubarak.

Since then, Egypt’s dissident bloggers have been subject to increased harassment and persecution with dozens being interrogated, abused, and detained.

At least three Egyptian cyber-dissidents are currently either in detention, held without charge under the Emergency Law, or serving a prison sentence in Egypt, claims RSF.

“End the campaign”

Alarmed by the situation in Egypt, US-based press freedom group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a special report last week that urged the Egyptian authorities to end its “campaign” against the country’s bloggers.

CPJ had named Egypt one of the world’s ten “worst backsliders” of press freedom in 2007. Since then, the organization claims that this trend has “continued unabated” with hundreds of legal suits filed against Egyptian journalists and editors, bloggers, and advocates of freedom of expression.

Around 70 cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned around the world because of their online writings, according to RSF’s statistics. The majority are detained in China followed by Vietnam and Iran.