MEXICO CITY - Governments in 45 countries
developing world are being taken to task for placing restrictions
citizens' ability to access information on the internet.
In most cases, government control has been achieved by compelling
subscribe to a state-run Internet Service Provider (ISP), charges
Without Borders (known by its French acronym RSF, for Reporters
Some governments, on the other hand, have imposed restrictions by
filters blocking access to web sites regarded as ''unsuitable''
forcing internet users to register with state authorities, adds
Paris-based media rights monitor in a new study, 'The Enemies of
For RSF, furthermore, 20 of the 45 countries surveyed in its study
described as the ''real enemies'' of this new means of
extent of infringements that prevail.
A military police officer stands guard in front of a giant portrait of Mao Tse-tung, founder of the People's Republic of China, at Beijing's Tiananmen Gate Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2001. A Chinese court sentenced nine members of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement to up to six years in prison for distributing sect materials that they downloaded from the Internet, a human rights group said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
''On the pretext of protecting the public from 'subversive ideas'
'national security and unity,' some governments totally prevent
from gaining access to the internet,'' it points out.
Included in this list of ''real enemies'' are nations such as
China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sierra
Syria, Tunisia and Vietnam.
Also identified are countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus,
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and
In the case of Saudi Arabia, for instance, despite the presence of
companies permitted to operate as ISPs, ''all traffic at the
through the servers of the Science and Technology Centre, a public
is equipped with filters banning access to sites that provide
contrary to Islamic values','' says RSF.
In that Arab nation, furthermore, the internet has been officially
''a harmful force for westernising people's minds''.
Regards Cuba, on the other hand, the government controls the
internet in the
same way it does for the other media, the study reveals. ''There
is no free
expression in Cuba at the national level.''
While in China, despite the rapid spread of the internet, the
continues to ''keep up pressure'' on users. ''In order to prevent
from finding information on the web, the authorities have blocked
some sites,'' notes the study.
Evidence RSF gathered from countries like Burma and Sierra Leone
impediments to the internet culture, too. In Burma, a law passed
1996 obliges anyone who owns a computer to declare it to the
''Those who fail to comply may face up to 15 years in prison.''
And in Sierra Leone, the authorities have attacked journalists
working for an
Its findings also expose the consequences of such interference
with access to
the information superhighway. For medical students in Iran, where
the internet is identical to that affecting other media, it has
denied access to web sites that deal with anatomy.
For RSF, such efforts at censorship go against the grain of
Article 19 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states
everyone shall have the right to receive and impart information
and ideas of
all kinds, regardless of the frontiers.
Moreover, it adds, 14 of the countries where such censorship
this international covenant to uphold the rights spelled out in
countries, declares RSF, need to ''respect the undertakings they
The restrictions have posed a dilemma for some of the 45 countries
RSF. That stems from the economic potential of the internet, as a
growth and development.
''The internet is a two-edged sword for authoritarian regimes,''
On the one hand, ''it enables any citizen to enjoy an
unprecedented degree of
freedom of speech and therefore constitutes a threat to the
''On the other hand, however, the internet is a major factor in
growth, due in particular to online trade and the exchange of
scientific information, which prompts some of these governments to
spread,'' it adds.
This dilemma, in fact, comes to light in two East Asian countries
Singapore. According to RSF, ''The economic argument seems to be
day in countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, where controlling
sites is proving difficult for the authorities.''
Moreover, it also affirms that the efforts by governments to block
to the internet is being chipped away in some countries by
''Web surfers can find ways round censorship: encoding, going
that offer anonymity when consulting banned sites or sending e-
connecting via cellphones and so on.''
But such measures need not be taken if access to the information
is open and free. And to achieve that in the 20 countries with
restrictions, RSF has called on the governments in question to
Among RSF's recommendations are: the abolition of state monopoly
access, a stop to the control of ISPs, the cancellation of the
citizens to register with the government for internet access, a
censorship through use of filters, and an end to legal proceedings
Copyright 2001 IPS