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In honour of World Day against Cyber-Censorship, RSF releases new list of internet enemies

(RSF/IFEX) – 12 March 2012 – To mark World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, Reporters Without Borders is today releasing its new list of “Enemies of the Internet” and “countries under surveillance.” This report updates the list released in 2011.

Two countries, Bahrain and Belarus, have passed from the “countries under surveillance” to the “Enemies of the Internet” category. Venezuela and Libya have been dropped from the “under surveillance” category while India and Kazakhstan have been added to it.

“The changes in this list reflect recent developments in online freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Netizens have been at the heart of political changes in the Arab world in 2011. Like journalists, they have tried to resist censorship but have paid a high price.

“Last year will be remembered as one of unprecedented violence against netizens. Five were killed while engaged in reporting activity. Nearly 200 arrests of bloggers and netizens were reported in 2011, a 30 per cent increase on 2010. These unprecedented figures risk being exceeded in 2012 as a result of the indiscriminate violence being used by the Syrian authorities in particular. More than 120 netizens are currently detained.

“On World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, we pay tribute to the ordinary citizens who often risk their lives or their freedom to keep us informed and to ensure that often brutal crackdowns do not take place without the outside world knowing.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “As online censorship and content filtering continue to accentuate the Internet's division and digital segregation, solidarity among those who defend a free Internet accessible to all is more essential than ever in order to maintain channels of communication between netizens and to ensure that information continues to circulate.”

Social networks and netizens versus filtering and surveillance

The last report, released in March 2011, highlighted the fact that the Internet and online social networks had been conclusively established as tools for organizing protests and circulating information in the course of the Arab world's mass uprisings. In the months that followed, repressive regimes responded with tougher measures to what they regarded as unacceptable attempts to destabilize their authority.

At the same time, supposedly democratic countries continue to set a bad example by yielding to the temptation to put security above other concerns and by adopting disproportionate measures to protect copyright. Technical service providers are under increasing pressure to act as Internet cops. Companies specializing in online surveillance are becoming the new mercenaries in an online arms race. Hactivists are providing technical expertise to netizens trapped by repressive regimes. Diplomats are getting involved. More than ever before, online freedom of expression is now a major foreign and domestic policy issue.

Two new Enemies of the Internet – Bahrain and Belarus

Bahrain and Belarus have joined Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam in the “Enemies of the Internet” category. These countries combine often drastic content filtering with access restrictions, tracking of cyber-dissidents and online propaganda.

Bahrain offers an example of an effective news blackout based a remarkable array of repressive measures: keeping the international media away, harassing human rights activists, arresting bloggers and netizens (one of whom died in detention), smearing and prosecuting free speech activists, and disrupting communications, especially during major demonstrations.

As Belarus sinks further into political isolation and economic stagnation, President Lukashenko's regime has lashed out at the Internet in response to an attempted “revolution via the social media.” The Internet was blocked during a series of “silent protests,” the list of inaccessible websites grew longer and some sites were the victims of cyber-attacks. Internet users and bloggers were arrested or invited to “preventive conversations” with the police in a bid to get them to stop demonstrating or covering demonstrations. And Law No. 317-3, which took effect on 6 January 2012, gave the regime additional Internet surveillance and control powers.

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