Beset by online surveillance and content filtering, netizens fight on
Published on Monday 12 March 2012.
This report, which presents the 2012 list of countries that are "Enemies
of the Internet" and "under surveillance," updates the report published
on 12 March 2011.
The last report, released in March 2011 at the climax of the Arab
Spring, highlighted the fact that the Internet and social networks have
been conclusively established as tools for protest, campaigning and
circulating information, and as vehicles for freedom. In the months that
followed, repressive regimes responded with tougher measures to what
they regarded as unacceptable attempts to "destabilize" their authority.
In 2011, netizens were at the heart of the political changes in the Arab
world and elsewhere. They tried to resist the imposition of a news and
information blackout but paid a high price.
At the same time, supposedly democratic countries continued to set a bad
example by yielding to the temptation to prioritize security over other
concerns and by adopting disproportionate measures to protect copyright.
Internet users in "free" countries have learned to react in order to
protect what they have won. Some governments stepped up pressure on
technical service providers to act as Internet cops. Companies
specializing in online surveillance are becoming the new mercenaries in
an online arms race. Hacktivists are providing technical expertise to
netizens trapped by a repressive regime's apparatus. Diplomats are
getting involved. More than ever before, online freedom of expression is
now a major foreign and domestic policy issue.
New media keep pushing back the boundaries of censorship
Online social networks complicate matters for authoritarian regimes that
are trying to suppress unwanted news and information. It was thanks to
netizens that Tunisians learned about the street vendor who set himself
on fire in Sidi Bouzid and Egyptians learned about Khaled Said, the
young netizen who was beaten to death by police outside an Alexandria
Internet café. It was thanks to social networks that Sidi Bouzid and
Khaled Said became news stories and went on to become cornerstones of
the Arab Spring.
The revolution of microblogs and opinion aggregators and the faster
dissemination of news and information that results, combined with the
growing use of mobile phones to livestream video, are all increasing the
possibilities of freeing information from its straightjacket. The mixing
of journalism and activism has been accentuated in extreme situations
such as Syria, where ordinary citizens, appalled by the bloodshed, are
systematically gathering information for dissemination abroad,
especially by the international news media, so the outside world knows
about the scale of the brutal crackdown taking place.
Even the total news and information blackout in North Korea, the "Hermit
Kingdom," is being challenged. Mobile phones give those who live near
the Chinese border the possibility of being linked to the rest of the
world. And the border is sufficiently porous to allow mobile phones,
CDs, DVDs and USB flash drives containing articles and other content to
be smuggled in from China.
In Turkmenistan, an "Information 2.0" war was started by a deadly
explosion at an arms depot in the Ashgabat suburb of Abadan in July
2011. For the first time, netizens managed to break through the regime's
wall of silence by using their mobile phones to film video of the
explosion and its aftermath and post it online. They subsequently paid a
Saudi Arabia's relentless censorship has not been able to prevent women
from fighting for the right to drive or vote and getting their fight
relayed on the Internet, attracting the international community's
attention and, as a result, a degree of attention within the country.
In 2011, use of online information to rally support was not limited to
"political" goals. The Internet also buzzed with condemnation of
corruption and social abuses, including the protests by the residents of
the Chinese village of Wukan against the seizure of their farmland by
unscrupulous officials, and the documentation of electoral fraud in Russia.
In Vietnam, it is still dangerous to blog about the Chinese-run bauxite
mines and their disastrous impact on the environment. The highland
region where the mines are located is virtually sealed off. Its few
visitors cannot take cameras, video-cameras or smartphones with them.
The aim is to prevent the dissemination of potentially-embarrassing
video footage. The Bauxitevietnam.info website is nonetheless managing
to obtain information and is doing its best to cover the situation.
Internet and mobile phone shutdowns become commonplace
Repressive regimes have learned the lesson. Keeping the media at bay,
intimidating witnesses and blocking access to a few news websites are
not enough to ensure the success of a news blackout. A much more
effective way is to seal off the area concerned to prevent unwanted
witness from entering and any digital content from leaving, and to cut
off communications by blocking SMS messaging and by shutting down
Internet access and mobile phone services in a temporary or targeted manner.
Egypt showed the way at the height of the demonstrations at the end of
February 2011 by cutting Internet access for five days, an unprecedented
move. Other countries, such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon
and Kazakhstan, have blocked SMS for the first ones or suspended the
Internet for the last one during elections or unrest, or even ahead of
anticipated unrest. China uses the well-tested tactic of suspending
communications in cities or provinces when it loses control of the
situation. Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia were the first victims.
Nonetheless, shutting down the Internet is a drastic solution that can
create problems for the authorities and can hurt the economy. Slowing
the Internet connection speed right down is more subtle but also
effective as it makes it impossible to send or receive photos or videos.
Iran is past master at this. Syria's censors also play with the Internet
connection speed, fluctuations being a good indicator of the level of
repression in a given region.
Bahrain is an example of a news blackout succeeding thanks to an
impressive combination of technical, judicial and physical censorship
More content filtering
As soon as the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt got under way, most
regimes that censor the Internet quickly reinforced online content
filtering in a bid to head off any possibility of similar unrest
spreading to their own countries. Some regimes have adopted filtering as
standard tool of governance, one that strengthens their hold on power.
Livestreaming sites and social networks are often the most affected.
In Uzbekistan, the government blocked access to forums where ordinary
members of the public discussed the Arab revolutions. In China, the word
"Jasmine" and the word "Occupy" followed by the name of a Chinese city
were blocked online. In Belarus, where there were major demonstrations,
the social network Vkontakte was rendered inaccessible. The Kazakh
authorities reacted in a similarly disproportionate manner, blocking not
only a few "extremist" sites but also the entire LiveJournal blog platform.
Turkey seems to have backed away from an announced plan, bordering on
the ridiculous, to censor 138 words online. It has nonetheless created a
system of online content filtering which, although optional, is seen as
a veiled form of censorship.
The new Thai government boasts that more online content has been blocked
in the past few months than in the previous three years. The grounds
given for this new threat to freedom of expression is the need to combat
Continuing vigilance is needed in Tunisia where Ammar 404, the nickname
for the online filtering and surveillance system established by deposed
President Ben Ali, could be revived as a result of a possible judicial
decision to require filtering for pornographic content.
South Korea has decided to increase the number of blocked websites in
response to the North's propaganda. Tajikistan, which does not figure in
this report, has blocked Facebook and news websites while Pakistan is
accused of wanting to build its own Great Electronic Wall.
More content removal, pressure on technical service providers
Censors are increasingly trying to enlist private-sector Internet
companies in online surveillance and censorship. Some cooperate, others
resist. Under government pressure, Chinese micro-blogging websites such
as Sina Weibo have had to hire thousands of moderators and now require
users to register under their real name.
Website hosting companies are under growing pressure to remove content
in response to "notice and take down" process, a procedure likely to
lead to abuses, as UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank
La Rue has stressed. In Thailand, Prachatai news website editor
Chiranuch Premchaiporn is facing a possible 20-year jail sentence for
failing to react with sufficient speed when told to remove comments
posted by site visitors that were critical of the monarchy.
India is one of the countries where more and more pressure is being put
on Internet service providers and website hosting companies. The
authorities there are trying to persuade them to provide a preview of
content so that anything "shocking" or liable to provoke sectarian
strife can be eliminated.
Threat to Net neutrality and online free speech from "right to be forgotten"
More and more individuals are requesting that information involving them
be deleted from online archives on the grounds of a supposed "right to
be forgotten" or "right to digital oblivion." European commissioner for
justice Viviane Reding fuelled concern on 8 November by referring to a
proposed directive that would allow anyone to request the deletion of
content of a personal nature "for legitimate reasons."
A generalized "right to oblivion," enshrined in a law, would be hard to
reconcile with online freedom of expression and information. Such a law
would be hard to implement in practice and could place an impossible
obligation on content editors and hosting companies – the complete
erasure of online content. A thorough debate is need to determine
whether individual rights are not already sufficiently guaranteed by
existing legal provisions on the right to privacy, media offences,
personal data and recourse to the courts.
Surveillance getting more effective and more intrusive
Internet content filtering is growing but Internet surveillance is
growing even more. Censors prefer to monitor dissidents' online
activities and contacts rather than try to prevent them from going
online. The police chief in the United Arab Emirates, for example, has
acknowledged that the police monitor social networks.
The security services no longer interrogate and torture a prisoner for
the names of his accomplices. Now they want his Facebook, Skype and
Vkontakte passwords. It is the same in Bahrain, Turkmenistan or Syria.
The protection of networks of dissidents and reporters' sources is one
of the leading challenges in the fight for information. Foreign
reporters visiting sensitive countries should take special precautions
in accordance with local conditions. It is no longer enough to take a
bullet-proof vest when setting off for a war zone or troubled region. A
"digital survival kit" is also needed to encrypt information, anonymize
communications and, if necessary, circumvent censorship.
Attempts to "phish" for social network usernames and passwords have been
reported in Syria and Iran, as well as the use of false security
certificates. The attempts were reported in Syria after the authorities
had stopped blocking access to Facebook – something that was clearly
done not as a conciliatory gesture but in order to facilitate surveillance.
The neutralization of encryption, anonymization and circumvention tools
is also being prioritized by repressive regimes. Iran is now capable of
blocking https and the ports used by Virtual Private Networks. China is
able to restrict the number of IP addresses that can connect to the
international network at the same time.
To enhance their surveillance abilities, repressive regimes turn to
specialized companies for ever more effective equipment and software for
filtering, monitoring and Deep Packet Inspection. The SpyFiles which
WikiLeaks has published are a mine of information on the subject. The
companies they use are very often western ones that have been lured by a
very lucrative market.
They include the US company BlueCoat, criticized for its activities in
Syria, the French company Amesys, which supplied Col. Gaddafi, and
Vodafone, the target of an ANHRI suit in Egypt. The Italian company
AreaSpa finally pulled out of Syria after an international campaign
criticizing its cooperation with the Assad regime. The European
Parliament has adopted a resolution supporting tougher regulation of
exports to repressive countries. A bill with similar aims is currently
before the US congress.
In her book Consent of the Networked, journalist and Internet specialist
Rebecca MacKinnon has rightly stressed the need for Internet users the
world over to raise questions about the way technology is used in order
to ensure that their rights and freedoms are protected.
Propaganda rules the Web
North Korea has taken its propaganda war against its southern neighbour
on to the Web, establishing a presence on social networks. Cuban
propaganda continues to attack bloggers who criticize the government,
accusing them of being mercenaries working for the American "empire".
China has signed up "50-cents", bloggers paid to post messages endorsed
by the party, ever since the disturbances that shook in Inner Mongolia
after a protesting herder was killed by a truck. Propaganda messages
like this one have taken root on the Internet: "Dear students and
friends, it was just a road accident. Some people with an ulterior
motive have interpreted as an ethnic conflict, or linked to oil and gas.
The government is taking this case very seriously … We hope that
students will not believe the rumours …" The government is believed to
have an arsenal of 40,000 microblogs to communicate with the population.
Syria's cyber army is expert in the art of trolling the Facebook walls
of opponents and dissidents, often with the aim of discrediting them,
and to drown out critical comments with a tide of praise for the
government of President Bashar al-Assad. Twitter accounts have been
created to exploit the #Syria hashtag, sending out hundreds of tweets
with keywords that link to sports results or photos of the country.
Bahrain is spending millions to polish its image abroad and give the
impression that the country has returned to normal. This has been capped
by the announcement that the 2012 Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix,
cancelled last year, will go ahead in April.
Cyber attacks in the form of distributed denials of service (DDoS) are
widespread. Last year saw the rise of groups of hacker such as
Anonymous, which were behind cyber attacks on the Tunisian, Egyptian and
Syrian governments' websites.
Governments are often behind attempts to hack news websites or
independent sites. Even Eritrea was hit. Opposition sites were blocked
just as the United Nations was approving sanctions against the country.
Sri Lankan sites were also victims of cyber attacks. On the eve of the
parliamentary election in Russia, a series of coordinated cyber attacks
and arrests of journalists and bloggers took place with the aim of
stifling political discussion, which can only take place freely via the
During the demonstrations in Belarus, the Internet service provider
BelTelecom redirected web users trying to connect to the Vkontakte
social network to sites containing malicious software.
Besides a regular army, every country now has a cyber army, which may or
may not be official. The reputation of the Chinese cyber police is well
established and the Syrian and Iranian cyber armies also play a major role.
Getting rid of awkward witnesses
2011 was the deadliest year for netizens, its violence unmatched in the
time that dissidents and human rights campaigners have been making
widespread use of the Web. Several were killed in Bahrain, Mexico, India
and Syria. Dozens of others are probably still to be identified and
there will undoubtedly be still more to add to the toll, particularly in
In Mexico, drug cartels hit social network users directly. Three
netizens and one journalist were shot dead in cold blood. The headless
body of a Mexican Internet activist was found in Nuevo Laredo on 9
November. The victim, nicknamed "Rascatripas" (Belly-Scratcher),
moderated the website "Nuevo Laredo en Vivo" which exposed organized
crime. A message left beside the body proclaimed: "This happened to me
for not understanding that I shouldn't report things on social networks."
On 9 April 2011, the netizen Zakariya Rashid Hassan died in custody in
Bahrain, a week after he was arrested and charged with inciting hatred,
disseminating false news, promoting sectarianism and calling for the
overthrow of the government on online forums.
At least seven media workers had already been killed as a result of
their work in Syria by the end of February this year. Netizens who also
paid with their lives included Basil Al-Sayed, Ferzat Jarban and
Soleiman Saleh Abazaid.
Raids and roundups
As netizen numbers grow, more and more of them are at risk. At least 199
cases of arrests of netizens were recorded in 2011, a 31-percent
increase compared with the previous year. Today, at least 120 netizens
are in prison because of their activities. China, followed by Vietnam
and Iran, has the largest number of netizens in prison again this year.
On 16 February this year, a raid was carried out at the Syrian Centre
for Media and Freedom of Expression, similarly in Turkmenistan after an
explosion at an arms depot near Abadan killed many civilians. Iran and
Vietnam have also used similar methods. Vietnam has attacked Catholic
networks and China regularly arrests netizens and dissidents to
intimidate their followers. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo
remains behind bars.
Egypt jailed its first political prisoner of the post-Mubarak era, the
blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad who was convicted for criticizing the armed
House arrests and "fake releases" abound. China has made this a
speciality, as the blogger Hu Jia and cyber-dissident Hada, who
campaigns for the rights of the Mongol people, discovered. Vietnam has
also used this practice.
Inhuman treatment, pressure and unfair tactics
Many Syrian and Bahraini netizens have been tortured in custody. Iranian
authorities in particular favour extracting confessions from dissidents
then broadcasting them on television. In Egypt bloggers have reported
being subjected to degrading treatment during questioning by security
The "UAE five", a group of netizens and activists accused of online
subversion and jailed in the United Arab Emirates, were accused of being
traitors, as were their families.
In Bahrain, the noted dissident Nabeel Rajab is regularly smeared in the
media as well as being subjected to physically assault.
In Cuba, a pitched battle is in progress between pro-government bloggers
and their "alternative" counterparts who criticize the government. The
latter, including the blogger Yoani Sanchez, have been the target of a
smear campaign in the state-run media and on foreign propaganda sites.
Chains of support
Bonds have been created between blogospheres and citizens throughout the
world have started relaying calls for solidarity, as well as startling
images and shocking stories. Global Voices, the international network of
bloggers and citizen journalists, has played an important role in the
dialogue between online communities and NGOs that campaign for freedom
In order to combat increasingly competent censors, self-styled
"hacktivists" have been giving technical assistance to vulnerable
netizens to help them share information in the face of pervasive
censorship. The campaigns on behalf of the Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil
Sanad and Syria's Razan Ghazzawi have transcended international borders.
The hashtag #OpSyria, started by Telecomix – a decentralised network of
net activists committed to freedom of expression – has allowed Syrians
to broadcast videos of the crackdown.
Last year also saw the development of tools to bypass censorship and
blocking of Web access, such as "Internet in a suitcase" and FreedomBox.
Cyber freedom activists are working flat-out to respond to increasingly
effective censorship tools.
Diplomats enter the picture
Freedom of expression on the Internet is no longer the sole preserve of
dissidents, geeks and censors. Diplomats have followed in their wake.
Statements and joint texts issued by international organizations and
coalitions of countries on Internet freedom have multiplied, from the
report by Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur for the promotion and
protection of freedom of opinion and expression, who last June
acknowledged Internet access as a basic right, to the ruling by the
European Court of Justice condemning Internet filtering and its adverse
effects on freedom of expression.
At a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in late February, the high
commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, deplored restrictions on the
Internet and the arrests of bloggers in some countries. She declared:
"The Internet has transformed human rights movements. States can no
longer exercise control based on the notion of monopoly over information."
The U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, urged the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe to approve a statement guaranteeing
online freedoms, believing "rights exercised in cyberspace deserve as
much protection as those exercised in real space".
For their part, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan defended the
principle of a code of good conduct for the Internet, a concept that in
reality is aimed as legitimizing censorship.
Democracies have a poor record
Some democratic countries are far from blameless. The free flow of news
and information online often loses out to internal security, the war on
terrorism and cyber crime, and even the protection of intellectual property.
Monitoring of the Internet has been stepped up in India since the 2008
attacks in Mumbai. Russia habitually describes sites that do no more
than criticize the Kremlin as "extremist" to justify closing them down.
Canada has introduced repressive Internet legislation under the label of
the fight against paedophilia.
The United Kingdom, whose Digital Rights Bill aimed at protecting
copyright has been singled out by U.N. Commissioner La Rue, went through
a difficult period during the riots last August. In a worrying
development, the Canadian company Research In Motion, manufacturers of
the Blackberry, made the personal details of some users available to the
police without a prior court order.
Despite international condemnation and the fact that its laws are
outdated, France still applies the Loppsi Internet security law, which
provides for official filtering of the Web, and the Hadopi law, which
allows for Web access to be cut off to prevent illegal downloading of
copyright content, despite several unsuccessful cases. Decrees ordering
the application of other laws show that the usual reaction of the
authorities is to impose filtering. Australia has yet to scrap its
national filtering system, despite waning support and the fact that the
type of content it is designed to cover may change.
Speeches by U.S. officials on the importance of the fight against online
censorship and their financial support for anti-censorship tools is
belied by the treatment of WikiLeaks (see the Reporters Without Borders
report on the United States and the Internet). Using Visa and MasterCard
to cut off its access to funds has hampered the site's operations.
Bradley Manning, suspected of being one of WikiLeaks' informers, has
been detained for several months in dreadful conditions. The founder of
WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is the subject of a "secret indictment" which
Reporters Without Borders urges the U.S. authorities to clarify.
Response of Internet users and netizens of the "free world"
Internet users in Western countries cut their teeth with the Occupy Wall
Street movement. Many of them took to the streets to protest against the
repressive U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA),
which sacrificed Internet freedom for the sake of copyright protection.
The operation Stop SOPA and the 24-hour blackout observed by many
websites, including Wikipedia, mobilised Web users throughout the world
who were potentially affected by these bills to an unprecedented extent.
The campaign took off again with a new wave of protest against the
Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which up till then had left
most people indifferent despite campaigns by the NGOs La Quadrature du
Net and Reporters Without Borders. Netizens from all sides understood
that these bills could affect on their day-to-day activities.
Eastern Europe spearheaded the campaign. Several governments held off
ratification. Resistance to ACTA is stronger than ever and the treaty
may not see the light of day. Vigilance must be maintained. The next
target for Internet activists could be the Intellectual Property Rights
Enforcement Directive (IPRED), proposed by the European Union to clamp
down on infringements of intellectual property law, which could
potentially lead to large-scale filtering of the Internet. Another blow
for Web neutrality.
Internet sovereignty and fragmentation of the Web
Internet sovereignty is an idea that is gaining ground in the minds of
national leaders, whether repressive or not. Others have followed the
example of the national platform created in Burma in 2010. Several times
in 2011, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, true to his nationalist
policies, announced the creation of a national Web, a "clean" version of
the Internet with its own search engine and messaging service. This may
mean two different types of access, one for the authorities and another
for the rest of the population, similar to the way the Internet is now
structured in Burma. Belarus requires commercial companies to register
the websites they have set up in the country. This does not affect news
and information sites for the time being.
Some countries such as North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Cuba,
and also Iran, censor Internet access so effectively that they restrict
their populations to local intranets that bear no resemblance to the
World Wide Web. The decision by Twitter among others to apply
location-specific censorship confirms the tendency to fall back on
In 2011, the fragmentation of the Internet gathered pace. Web users were
granted varying access depending on where they were connected. This is
contrary to the original concept of the founders of the Web. Digital
segregation is spreading. Solidarity between defenders of a free
Internet, accessible to all, is more than ever needed for the
information to continue to flow.
The 2012 list of the Enemies of the Internet
Bahrain and Belarus move from "under surveillance" to "Enemies". Libya
and Venezuela had been dropped from the list of countries "under
surveillance" while India and Kazakhstan have been added to it.
Bahrain and Belarus, new Enemies of the Internet
Two countries, Bahrain and Belarus, have been moved from the "under
surveillance" category to the "Enemies of the Internet" list, joining
the ranks of the countries that restrict Internet freedom the most:
Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria,
Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. They combine often drastic content
filtering with access restrictions, tracking of cyber-dissidents and
online propaganda. Iran and China, in particular, reinforced their
technical capacity in 2011 and China stepped up pressure on
privately-owned Internet companies in order to secure their collaboration.
Iran has announced the launch of a national Internet. Iran and Vietnam
have both launched a new wave of arrests, while the bloody crackdown on
protests in Syria is hitting netizens hard and is enabling the regime to
perfect its mastery of online surveillance with Iran's help.
Turkmenistan has fought its first battle in the war over Information 2.0
while North Korea, which is developing its online presence for
propaganda purposes, is confronted with an increase in smuggling of
banned communications equipment across the Chinese border. In Cuba,
bloggers supportive of the government and those critical of the regime
Saudi Arabia has continued its relentless censorship and suppressed
coverage of a provincialuprising. Uzbekistan took measures to prevent
Uznet from becoming a forum for discussing the Arab springs. There is
one light of hope: the situation is improving in Burma, where the
military have permitted the release of journalists and bloggers and the
unblocking of news websites, but the legislative and technical tools for
controlling and monitoring the Internet have yet to be dismantled.
Bahrain offers an example of an effective news blackout based on 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 the major
In Belarus, President Lukashenko's regime has increased his grip on the
Web as the country sinks further into political isolation and economic
stagnation. The Internet, a space used for circulating information and
mobilizing protests, has been hit hard as the authorities have reacted
to "revolution via the social media." The list of blocked websites has
grown longer and the Internet was partially blocked during the "silent
protests." Some Belarusian Internet users and bloggers have been
arrested while others have been invited to "preventive conversations"
with the police in a bid to get them to stop demonstrating or covering
demonstrations. The government has used Twitter to send messages that
are meant to intimidate demonstrators, and the main ISP has diverted
those trying to access the online social network Vkontakte to sites
containing malware. And Law No. 317-3, which took effect on 6 January
2012, reinforced Internet surveillance and control measures.
Movement in "countries under surveillance" list
The countries "under surveillance" list still includes Australia, whose
government clings to a dangerous content filtering system; Egypt, where
the new regime has resumed old practices and has directly targeted the
most outspoken bloggers; Eritrea, a police state that keeps its citizens
away from the Internet and is alarmed by its diaspora's new-found
militancy online and on the streets of foreign cities; France, which
continues its "three-strikes" policy on illégal downloading, with
suspension of Internet access, and wher administrative filtering is
introduced by an internal security law and appears with increasing
frequency in decrees implementing laws; and Malaysia, which continues to
harass bloggers (who have more credibility that the traditional media)
in the run-up to general elections.
The "under surveillance" list also includes Russia, which has used
cyber-attacks and has arrested bloggers and netizens to prevent a real
online political debate; South Korea, which is stepping up censorship of
propaganda from its northern neighbour and keeps an array of repressive
laws; Sri Lanka, where online media and journalists continue to be
blocked and physically attacked; Thailand, where the new government
sends bloggers to prison and is reinforcing content filtering in the
name of cracking down on lèse-majesté; Tunisia, where freedom of
expression is still fragile and content filtering could be reimposed;
Turkey, where thousands of websites are still inaccessible, alarming
filtering initiatives have been taken and netizens and online
journalists continue to be prosecuted; and the United Arab Emirates,
where surveillance has been reinforced preventively in response to the
Venezuela and Libya no longer under surveillance
In Libya, many challenges remain but the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime
has ended an era of censorship. Before his removal and death, Col.
Gaddafi had tried to impose a news blackout by cutting access to the
In Venezuela, access to the Internet continues to be unrestricted. The
level of self-censorship is hard to evaluate but the adoption in 2011 of
legislation that could potentially limit Internet freedom has yet to
have any damaging effect in practice. Reporters Without Borders will
nonetheless remain vigilant as relations between the government and
critical media are tense.
India and Kazakhstan, new additions to the "under surveillance" category
Since the Mumbai bombings of 2008, the Indian authorities have stepped
up Internet surveillance and pressure on technical service providers,
while publicly rejecting accusations of censorship. The national
security policy of the world's biggest democracy is undermining freedom
of expression and the protection of Internet users' personal data.
Kazakhstan, which likes to think of itself as a regional model after
holding the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe in 2010, nonetheless seems to be turning its back
on all its fine promises in order to take the road of cyber-censorship.
An unprecedented oil workers strike, a major riot, a strange wave of
bombings and the president's ailing health all helped to increase
government tension in 2011 and led to greater control of information,
especially online information: blocking of news websites, cutting of
communications around the city of Zhanaozen during the riot, and new,
repressive Internet regulations.
Thailand and Burma may be about to change places
If Thailand continues down the slope of content filtering and jailing
netizens on lèse-majesté charges, it could soon join the club of the
world's most repressive countries as regards the Internet.
Burma could soon leave the Enemies of the Internet list if the country
takes the necessary measures. It has clearly embarked on a promising
period of reforms, which has included the release of journalists and
bloggers and the restoration of access to blocked websites. It must now
go further by abandoning censorship altogether, releasing the
journalists and bloggers still held, dismantling the surveillance
apparatus that was built on the national Internet platform, and
repealing the Electronic Act.
Other countries to watch
Other countries have jailed netizens or established a form of Internet
censorship. Even if they are not on these lists, Reporters Without
Borders will continue to closely monitor online freedom of information
in countries such as Azerbaijan, Morocco and Tajikistan, to name just a few.
At the time of writing, Pakistan has invited private-sector companies to
bid for the creation of a national Internet filtering and blocking
system. Reporters Without Borders has asked the authorities to abandon
this project, which would result in the creation of an Electronic Great
Wall. If they go ahead, Pakistan could be added to the Enemies of the
Internet in 2013.