Reporters sans Frontieres Uncovers Enemies of the Internet
By Martyn Williams
PARIS, FRANCE, 1999 AUG 9 (Newsbytes) -- A new report by Reporters Sans
Frontieres (RSF) has named 45 nations the group considers enemies of the
Internet for the blocking and filtering or all-out banning the nations
impose on Internet access.
Of the 45 nations, RSF said 20 can be described as real enemies of the
Internet for their actions. 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 Vietnam.
Many of the 20 nations are singled out for restrictions that make all
Internet users access the network through a single, state-run ISP. These
nations include Belarus, the nations of Central Asia, Sudan and Tunisia.
China was singled out for its close monitoring of Internet use despite
the rapid pace with which Internet use is growing. RSF singled out the
case of computer technician Lin Hai, who was jailed for supplying Chinese
e-mail addresses to a US-based dissident site that publishes an e-mail
newsletter critical of the government, and the June closure of 300 unlicensed
cybercafes in Shanghai.
The group also highlighted China's periodic blocking of the Websites
of dissident organizations and international news organizations including
BBC Online and New Century Net.
Other nations were taken to task for government-controlled filtering
of the Internet which means, according to RSF, medical students in Iran
are unable to access Websites dealing with anatomy and surfing via any
of Saudi Arabia's private ISPs run through government filters that seek
to maintain Islamic values. However, the situation is even worse in other
In Burma, said RSF, Internet access is via a state-run ISP and anyone
who owns a computer must declare it to the government or face the possibility
of a 15 jail sentence if the machine is discovered. Restrictions in Vietnam
mean all Internet use has to be approved by the government through permits
from the interior ministry and access via state-run ISPs.
Journalists working for an online newspaper in Sierra Leone have been
attacked, said RSF, with two from the daily The Independent Observer being
arrested in June after accusations that they were working with the foreign
based online newspaper Ninjas.
And citizens of Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria have no direct access
to the Internet and even the official sites of the governments of these
countries are maintained on servers overseas. In the case of Iraq, the
few official servers are in Jordan while the North Korean news agency
maintains its site from Tokyo.
Concluding its report, RSF called on the governments of the 20 nations
to abolish the state monopoly on Internet access, the obligation on citizens
to register before obtaining access, censorship through the use of filters,
to lift controls on e-mail and enable more privacy online and to call
off Internet-related legal proceedings.
It also called 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 covenant has been signed by a number of the 20 nations singled out
in the report and RSF asked those countries to respect the contents of
Article 19. Those countries include Azerbaijan, Belarus, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan,
Kirghizia, Libya, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria,
Tunisia and Vietnam.