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Which countries repress Internet freedom?

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Which countries repress Internet freedom?

Young people surf the web Aug. 17, 2000, near Peking University, China.

(Photo by Peter Rogers/Newsmakers)
Question: Which countries repress Internet freedom?
Each year on the World Day Against Cybercensorship, France-based press-freedom organization Reporters Without Borders releases its annual list of "Enemies of the Internet." Here's the group's overview of which countries made the list in March 2012 - and why.
Answer: Bahrain: "Although the country has used filtering for years to target political and religious contents, since February 14, 2011 – starting date of the rebellion – it has bolstered its censorship efforts in reaction to the unrest destabilizing the Arab world. ...Surveillance was also strengthened and expanded to include human rights activists and their close friends and relatives."

Belarus: "The Internet has played a crucial role in a climate marked by intensified censorship and a hunt for journalists. Internet filtering, provided for by Decree 60 has increased. ...In December 2010, demonstrations against the re-election of Lukashenko led the regime to intensify its crackdown. A new series of destabilizing events induced it to try to impose a genuine blackout on media coverage of the Minsk metro bombing in April 2011."

Burma: "In order for reforms to take hold and to avoid any setback, the entire legal framework needs to be revised. One positive sign is that the authorities have promised to adopt in 2012 a media law that will put an end to censorship. They are then expected to revise or repeal the Electronic Act and emergency rule. Some individuals are still being arrested under the Unlawful Association Act, or treason charges. ...Several reports attest to a very slow bandwidth speed – so slow that the Eleven Media group recently launched a news via SMS system to better meet its readers’ needs. The regime also needs to extend Internet access to the whole population. Currently, just 1% of the latter enjoys Internet access, and the country only has about 500 cybercafés, mainly in large cities."

China: "China may have the world’s most sophisticated online censorship and surveillance system, but it has been pushed to its limits to thwart any risk of contagion from protest movements, mainly by removing most references to Arab Spring and 'Occupy Wall Street' movements from the 'Egypt' banned. It is now impossible to use the word 'occupy' followed by the name of a Chinese city (ex.: 'Occupy Beijing' (占领北京) in a Web search. ...The regime has also required public Wi-Fi access providers to install extremely expensive Internet user tracking software. In addition to reinforcing their control of Internet traffic, the authorities are now imposing a form of economic censorship by forcing cybercafés to stop offering Wi-Fi access if they cannot afford the software."

Cuba: "Pro-government bloggers are waging a non-stop battle on the Internet against 'alternative' bloggers critical of the authorities. The regime is preventing most of its citizens from gaining access to the Internet and is occupying the field in order to leave no cyberspace for dissidents. However, although less than 2% of Cubans have access to the World Wide Web, a growing number of them have found creative ways to connect with the Internet and visit the social networks."

Iran: "This is the first time that netizens have been sentenced to death. On January 29, 2012, the Iranian Farsnews agency, with close ties to the Guardians of the Revolution, confirmed the sentencing to death of Web developer Saeed Malekpour, a permanent resident of Canada, for 'anti-government agitation' and 'insulting Islam.' In early 2012, Iran’s Supreme Court also confirmed the death sentence for IT student Vahid Asghari and website administrator Ahmadreza Hashempour. The Revolutionary Court’s Fifteenth Chamber informed Web developer and humorist Mehdi Alizadeh that he had been sentenced to death. These four netizens, who are between 25 and 40, are victims of a plot orchestrated by the Center for the Surveillance of Organized Crime, an entity created illegally in 2008 by the Revolutionary Guards. Under torture, the accused admitted having links with websites that criticize Islam and the Iranian government."

North Korea: "Recently, North Korea officially entered the World Wide Web to wage a propaganda war against South Korea and the United States. The regime equipped itself with an army of hackers instructed to destroy websites and practice espionage. Most were trained at Mirim College, an authentic ultra-secure, and clandestine hacker training center. The regime has simultaneously been keeping the great majority of the population away from the Web, even the very limited and ultra-censored national intranet."

Saudi Arabia: "Intolerant of criticism, in the last few years the government has been enforcing harsh censorship through the use of extended filtering bolstered by repressive legislation and widespread online surveillance. The authorities resorted to blocking websites created in the aftermath of the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt which relay the protestors’ demands, such as Dawlaty.info and Saudireform.com. An online petition was circulated to openly call for the King to initiate political reform. Despite the censorship, it was signed by several hundred people – activists, writers and academics – and posted on Twitter, thanks to the hashtag #saudimataleb."

Syria: "Syria was already known for its censorship of the Internet before the start of the Syrian revolution. In response to the protests, a violent crackdown in the streets was accompanied by unrelenting online repression. ...At the start of June 2011, the government temporarily imposed an almost complete stop on the Internet. It was subsequently lifted but Internet connections are now slowed right down regularly, almost every Friday, when the big weekly protests are staged. This is especially so in areas that are opposition strongholds."

Turkmenistan: "Turkmenistan, one of the countries most hostile to freedom of expression, is still technologically and financially blocking the growth of the Internet and imposing drastic censorship, resulting in a 'Turkmenet' purged of any political or social topic. In fact, only 2.2% of Turkmen are connected. Yet for those not using a software circumvention tool, social networks – particularly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, considered to be troublemakers – are blocked. This censorship was extended to Gmail in February 2012."

Uzbekistan: "On the occasion of “Media Workers’ Day” on 27 June 2011, President Karimov asserted that the government '...fully supports the desire of our fellow citizens to increasingly use the Internet. [...]' He further stated: 'We absolutely do not accept the establishment of any walls, [or] limitations in the information world leading to isolation,' and denounced the 'destructive forces' which 'tend to mislead young people.' The official rhetoric is very remote from the contemptible reality: Uzbekistan is one of the region’s most Internet-repressive countries."

Vietnam: "Paranoid Vietnamese authorities have stepped up repression and control to stave off any possibility of a regime collapse, favoring surveillance over increased filtering. Bloggers have been the target off a new wave of arrests. The authorities, aware they cannot impose a complete control of the news, are afraid of an increasingly connected population. Cybercafes are full, smartphones very popular. More than 111 cell phones are in service in the country for a population of 86 millions."

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