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News media and websites censored and blocked for carrying leaked cables

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the measures being taken by governments and government agencies to censor websites or news media that have published details of the US diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks.

"Knee-jerk censorship is an inappropriate and dangerous response," Reporters Without Borders said. "Attempts to block the dissemination of sensitive material that is already widely available on the Internet are doomed to failure and violate the right to be informed."

According to "The Wall Street Journal", the US Air Force has taken drastic measures to prevent employees lacking special authorisation from seeing the leaked cables, blocking access to the websites of the "New York Times" and at least 25 medias and blogs that have been publishing them, including "The Guardian", "Le Monde", "Der Spiegel" and "El Pais".

"The Wall Street Journal" obtained a copy of the web page to which US Air Force staff are sent when they try to connect from their office computers. A message on the page says: "ACCESS DENIED. Internet Usage is Logged & Monitored."

A US Air Force spokesperson, Lt. Col. Brenda Campbell, told "The New York Times": "News media websites will be blocked if they post classified documents from the WikiLeaks website. This is similar to how we'd block any other website that posted classified information." She added that only sites posting entire cables are being blocked, not those that are just publishing extracts. A Department of Defence spokesman said the Pentagon was not behind this initiative, adding that neither the Army, Navy nor Marines had adopted similar website blocking measures.

The White House issued a directive on 3 December forbidding unauthorised federal employees from accessing classified documents available on WikiLeaks. The Library of Congress responded a few hours later by blocking access to WikiLeaks from its computers. "Each federal employee and contractor is obligated to protect classified information," the directive from the White House Office of Management and Budget said, stressing that the fact that documents had been leaked did not mean they had been declassified.

The same day, the US Army posted the following message on NIPRNet, the Internet network used by its troops in Iraq: "Department of Defence military, civilian and contractor personnel should not access the WikiLeaks website to view or download the publicised classified information."

Newspapers containing coverage of the WikiLeaks cables are also being censored. Morocco blocked distribution of the 12 December issue of the French daily "Le Monde" as well as issues of the Spanish daily "El País" and the pan-Arab daily "Al-Quds Al-Arabi" earlier in December. All of these newspapers referred to a December 2009 cable from the US consulate in Casablanca about alleged corruption by associates of King Mohammed, especially in connection with real estate deals.

Agence France-Presse quoted a Moroccan communication ministry official on 14 December as saying that these issues "were forbidden entry for publishing libellous information about Morocco from the WikiLeaks website." The ban was issued on the basis of "an article in the press code stating that the communication ministry has the right to ban any publication whose stories attack religion, territorial integrity and the monarchy," the official added.

Countries where access to WikiLeaks is blocked include China and Thailand. The site can be accessed from Pakistan but not the pages containing the cables about Pakistan.

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