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CRITICAL WEBSITES BLOCKED

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) are calling attention to Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia, where two popular news websites have been filtered and an individual was recently jailed for criticising the government.

In a letter sent to King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz last week, the groups urged authorities to stop filtering content from the news websites Alwifaq.net and Elaph.com. An Islamist site, Alwifaq.net was reportedly filtered after it published articles criticising the Saudi government's Internet filtering policies.

Saudi authorities openly acknowledge that they blacklist more than 400,000 websites, including publications containing any kind of reference to sexuality and sites run by political groups. Elaph.com is a liberal news site that is very popular in the Arab world.

HRInfo and RSF also raised the case of Mohsen al-Awajy, who was arrested on 10 March 2006 after criticising a labour minister on the website Wasatyah.com. Al-Awajy was released on 21 March.

According to a study in 2004 by the OpenNet Initiative, which tested over 60,000 websites during a three-year period, the most aggressive Internet filtering focused on pornography (98% of sites tested were blocked), drugs (86%), and gambling (93%).

The study also revealed that the Saudi system uses commercial software from the United States (Secure Computing's SmartFilter) to block access to websites in the country.

Visit these links:

- Joint letter by HRInfo and RSF: http://www.ifex.org/eng/content/view/full/72928/
- ONI Study on Internet Filtering in Saudi Arabia: http://www.opennetinitiative.net/studies/saudi/
- HRInfo: http://www.hrinfo.net/en/
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/int_blackholes_en.php3?id_mot=525&annee=2006&Valider=OK
- Human Rights Watch: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/01/18/saudia12230.htm

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