Many of us have gripes about our online experience, whether it be constant Facebook redesigns or slow connections to busy sites. But one campaign group has pointed out that in at least a dozen countries, people have more serious things to worry about.
Reporters without Borders is no longer concerned solely with traditional mainstream media but has also turned its attention to online communication such as blogging and social networks, and the restrictions some governments place upon writers.
Last year it published a list of 10 countries that it declared “Enemies of the Internet” because they either used oppressive measures such as officially censoring or filtering Internet content, imprisoned those who used the web for political comments, or both. Those countries were Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Not only do all 10 remain on the list this year, but they’ve been joined by Bahrain and Belarus. In the case of Bahrain, it follows the death of Zakariya Rashid Hassan while being held in custody for six days last April over his online political commentary. In the case of Belarus, officials didn’t simply block Vkontakte (a popular social network) during political unrest, but redirected visitors to malware-laden sites. The government also sent intimidating Twitter messages to critics.
Reporters without Borders also runs a list of countries that it considers “under surveillance” as possible candidates for its enemies list, a list that surprisingly includes Australia for its nation Internet filtering system. New additions to that list this year include India, accused of pressuring internet providers to help it increase online surveillance, and Kazakhstan, which introduced tougher online controls and blocked news sites.
Across the world, Reporters with Borders recorded 199 cases of people being arrested for online comments last year, up 31 percent from 2010. It also believes that at least 120 people are currently in prison as a direct result of their online postings.