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Middle East “continues to curb web freedom”
Governments in the region are imposing strict online censorship laws, says the OpenNet Initiative.
August 13, 2009 4:16 by Aarti Nagraj
Governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) continue to clamp down on web freedom in the region, says a new study released by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), a body which studies internet filtering and surveillance practices across the world.
According to the study, online censorship is rising in the region, with sophisticated technology being used to filter and monitor internet activities, reports AFP.
“The media environment of the Middle East and North Africa region is a battle space where commercially-enhanced blocking, targeted surveillance, self-censorship, and intimidation compete with enhanced tools of censorship circumvention,” says ONI principal investigator Ron Deibert. The censorship goes “beyond mere denial of information,” he adds.
Of the 18 countries surveyed in the MENA region, the study found that 14 used internet-filtering technology.
“The absence of technical filtering in some countries in the region by no means indicates free online environments in those countries,” ONI lead researcher Helmi Noman writes in the report. “Surveillance and monitoring practices and extra-legal harassment from security agencies create a climate of fear used to silence online dissidents.”
The study highlights the example of Saudi Arabia announcing in May that it plans to enact laws requiring local newspapers and websites to get licenses from the Ministry of Information.
It also cites the remarks made by Lieutenant General Dahi Tamim, Dubai’s chief of police, when he called for the blocking of video-sharing site YouTube in March this year. He said that the site contained indecent material that has a bad influence on the young people in the country.
“Publishing pornographic material and defamatory ideas is not freedom,” Tamim said in the Arabic daily Emarat Al Youm.
The study goes on to say that, “States [in the region] continue to introduce more restrictive legal, technical and monitoring measures, amid growing local and regional calls to ease restrictions and remove barriers to the free flow of information.”