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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 countries.

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.


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