Internet censorship and bans

It was just a few days back when I came across the news of internet ban in valley by the Jammu & Kashmir government. The government suspended 22 social networking sites which included platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp.

The order came into an immediate effect but the reason stated was quite expected. The order stated the fact that these platforms were being misused by the youth in the valley which in turn added to the unrest.

While we sought ways for a peaceful dialogue for Kashmir, such a move added more fuel to the fire within the hearts of the people in valley.

This was about India but then came the news on April 30, 2017 about Turkey blocking the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

A block on all language editions of Wikipedia was observed on Saturday at 5 am GMT as stated by Turkey Block on its website. Turkey blocked Wikipedia citing a law that allows it to ban access to websites that it believes to be obscene or a threat to national security. This move will worry Turkey in the long run since its Western allies say that Ankara has slashed the freedom of speech and other basic rights.

This brings me to the question that while Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey is ready to lend a hand to initiate a dialogue between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue, shouldn’t it be looking at the curtailing of the freedom of speech of its own people? 

Later on when I read further more about such bans and internet censorship, I came across the 2015 list of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)  most censored countries which is a part of their annual publication, Attacks on the Press.

The list is basically based on research into the use of tactics from repressive laws to harassment of journalists and restrictions on Internet access.

1. Eritrea

Only state media is allowed to circulate news while the last recognized international correspondent was expelled in 2007. Even those working for the heavily censored state press live in constant fear of arrest for any report perceived as critical to the ruling party. None of those arrested are taken to court while the fear of arrest leads to exile. Those in exile try to provide access to independent online news websites and radio broadcasts but it is too limited due to signal jamming and tight online control by the ace state run telecommunications company, EriTel. Access to the internet is extremely limited and available only through slow dial-up connections. Less than 1% of Eritrea’s population goes online (U.N. International Telecommunication Union figures).

2. North Korea

The irony here is that Article 53 of North Korea’s constitution hail freedom of press but even with an Associated Press bureau that too with a staff of North Koreans and located in Pyongyang headquarters of the state-run Korean Central News Agency, access to independent news sources is extremely limited. Those looking for independent information have turned to bootlegged foreign TV and radio signals and smuggled foreign DVDs.

3. Saudi Arabia

Amendments to press law in 2011 punishes the publication of any material that deems to contravene sharia, infringe state interests, promote foreign interests etc. The General Commission for Audiovisual Media announced in April 2014 that it will monitor online and Youtube content to ensure that Saudi contributors adhere to government guidelines (Youtube is used by many Saudis to address controversial issues).

4. Ethiopia

Ten independent journalists and bloggers were imprisoned in 2014. There are no independent broadcasters. The state controlled telecommunications company Ethio Telecom is the sole ISP and routinely suspends critical news websites.

5. Azerbaijan

The main sources of information are state owned broadcasters. International broadcasters are blocked or their satellite signals are jammed. Online speech subjects to self censorship due to a criminal defamation law. News and social media websites are promptly blocked. At least 10 journalists and bloggers including many famous names are in Azerbaijani jails.

6. Vietnam

Under the Media Law of 1999, all media working in Vietnam must serve as the mouthpiece of Party organizations. Independent bloggers who report on sensitive issues have faced persecution through street level attacks, prompt arrests, surveillance and harsh prison sentence. Authorities have widely blocked access to websites which seem to be critical of the government. In September 2013, a new law extended state censorship to social media platforms making it illegal to post any material deemed to oppose the state or harm national security.

7. Iran

Authorities maintains one of the toughest censorship on internet blocking millions of websites which includes social networking as well as news websites. They are suspected of using sophisticated and tricky (according to me)  techniques such as setting up fake versions of popular websites and search engines and frequently jams satellite signals.

8. China

Document 9, a secret white paper dated April 22, 2014 was widely leaked online and to the international press. It reasserted the necessity for China’s technological and human censors to be ever more cautious while keeping watch over the country’s 642 million internet users.

9. Cuba

Although internet has opened up some space for critical reporting, ISP’s are ordered to block objectionable content. Independent journalists and bloggers who work online tend to use websites that are hosted overseas and go to foreign embassies or hotels to upload content so as to get an unfiltered connection to the internet. These critical and important blogs and online news platforms are largely inaccessible to average Cuban who still has not benefited from a high-speed internet connection. Most people do not have internet at home.

Such bans and censorship not only lead to stalemate but also deter the course of development of a nation. These may impinge the daily lives of people since people have every right to be informed through any channel of information of their choice.

Reference for the CPJ list taken from: https://cpj.org/

Featured image taken from: https://feminisminindia.com

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