Reporters Without Borders is out with its annual list of countries it calls “Enemies of the Internet.”
New to the list are Bahrain and Belarus. Others include Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Bahrain, alleged the report, kept the international media away during protests, harrassed human rights activists, arrested bloggers and disrupted communications during major demonstrations. I visited Bahrain two years ago, and even before Arab Spring, I noticed that some political sites run by ex-patriots were blocked. Bahrain also blocks sexually explicit sites as “illegal content.”
Belarus has allegedly blocked access to critical websites and, according to the group, has arrested bloggers.
There were some good and bad points about last year’s “Arab Spring” that saw the overthrow of several dictators including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia’s Ben-Ali and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi who was captured and killed by opposition forces. Libya is now off the “enemies” list.
New media, according to the group, “complicate matters for authoritarian regimes that are trying to suppress unwanted news and information.” The organization credits “netizens” for informing Tunisians about Sidi Bouzid who set himself on fire to protest conditions and helped start a fire that brought down the regime.
Of course there were many attempts to suppress information including Mubarak’s cutting off Internet and cell phone access but, at the end of the day, information has a way of getting through.
“Repressive regimes have learned the lesson,”said the group in its report, “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.”
France and Australia “under surveillance”
France and Australia and on the group’s “under surveillance list” for its filtering of certain content and the HADOPI law that allows the Internet to be cut off to prevent illegal downloading of copyright materials. Australia has a national filtering law that blocks certain type of content at a national level.
Russia has been accused of cyber attacks and harassing and arresting journalists and bloggers opposed to President elect Vladimar Putin. I was in Russia last month where I participated in discussions about proposed net censorship purportedly to “protect children.”