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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has accused UNESCO of "grovelling" to authoritarian governments by withdrawing sponsorship of Online Free Expression Day (12 March).

Visitors to the RSF website on the day were privy to a list of 15 countries that RSF deems "Internet enemies" - governments who imprison Internet users and censor websites - and were asked to take part in virtual demonstrations against the most repressive countries.

RSF accused UNESCO of yielding to pressure from several of the 15 countries by dropping its backing for the event.

"Unfortunately, it seems we have gone back 20 years, to the time when authoritarian regimes called the shots at UNESCO headquarters in Paris," RSF said in a statement on 12 March. "UNESCO's grovelling shows the importance of Online Free Expression Day and the need to protest against governments that censor."

UNESCO responded by saying it supported freedom of expression on the Internet but withdrew its patronage because RSF published information that did not follow "the arrangements agreed upon between the two organisations." UNESCO also said that the use of its logo to indicate support for RSF's views was misleading.

"In its communications on the day, RSF published material concerning a number of UNESCO's member states, which UNESCO had not been informed of and could not endorse," it said in a statement.

The countries listed by RSF were: Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

More than 21,000 Internet users took part in the 24-hour online demonstration on 12 March. The protest is still going on here:

Also visit these links:
- RSF:
(18 March 2008)

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