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Belarus, Bahrain Blacklisted 'Enemies Of Internet,' India 'Under Surveillance'

The campaign group for freedom of Information Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has added Belarus and Bahrain in its list of "Enemies of the Internet," after crackdowns on cyber-dissidents and rights activists in those countries.

The France-based group published the blacklist on Monday (March 12), which it designated as the 'World Day Against Cyber Censorship.'

The two countries have been moved from the "Under Surveillance" category to the "Enemies of the Internet" list, joining the ranks of the countries that restrict Internet freedom the most: Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

They combine often drastic content filtering with access restrictions, tracking of cyber-dissidents and online propaganda. Iran and China, in particular, reinforced their technical capacity in 2011 and China stepped up pressure on privately-owned Internet companies in order to secure their collaboration, RSF says in the updated report published on Monday.

Iran has announced the launch of a national Internet. Iran and Vietnam have launched a new wave of arrests, while the bloody crackdown on protests in Syria is hitting netizens hard and is enabling the regime to perfect its mastery of online surveillance with Iran's help. Turkmenistan has fought its first battle in the war over Information 2.0 while North Korea, which is developing its online presence for propaganda purposes, is confronted with an increase in smuggling of banned communications equipment across the Chinese border. In Cuba, bloggers supportive of the government and those critical of the regime argue online.

Saudi Arabia has continued its relentless censorship and suppressed coverage of a provincial uprising. Uzbekistan took measures to prevent Uznet from becoming a forum for discussing the 'Arab Springs.' The campaign group finds "one light of hope" in Burma, where it says the situation is improving, with the military having permitted the release of journalists and bloggers and the unblocking of news websites. But the legislative and technical tools for controlling and monitoring the Internet have yet to be dismantled in that South East Asian country.

RSF says Bahrain offers an example of an effective news blackout based on a remarkable array of repressive measures: keeping the international media away, harassing human rights activists, arresting bloggers and netizens (one of whom died in detention), smearing and prosecuting free speech activists, and disrupting communications, especially during the major demonstrations.

The report says that President Lukashenko's regime in Belarus has increased his grip on the Web as the country sinks further into political isolation and economic stagnation. The list of blocked websites has grown longer and the Internet was partially blocked during the "silent protests. "A new law has reinforced Internet surveillance and control measures.

The countries Under Surveillance list still include Australia, Egypt, Eritrea, France, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, and the UAE.

Venezuela and Libya are no longer under surveillance. RSF noted that in Libya, many challenges remain but the overthrow of the Qadhafi regime has ended an era of censorship. In Venezuela, access to the Internet continues to be unrestricted.

India and Kazakhstan have been added to the Under Surveillance category.

RSF said it would continue to closely monitor online freedom of information in countries such as Azerbaijan, Morocco and Tajikistan.

At the time of writing, Pakistan has invited private-sector companies to bid for the creation of a national Internet filtering and blocking system.

RSF has warned the Pakistani authorities that if they go ahead with the creation of a national Internet filtering and blocking system, the country could be added to the "Enemies of the Internet" list in 2013.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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