MIDDLE EAST: Iran and Arab countries "enemies of the Internet," says report
As of last week, the advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders counted nearly 120 bloggers, journalists and others behind bars for their online activities — more than any other time since the creation of the Internet.
On Saturday, that number went up by 30 when Iranian authorities announced the arrest of an alleged U.S.-backed "cyber network."
Members of the network were accused of bypassing government filters, waging "psychological warfare" against the Islamic Republic, fomenting unrest, and spying.
Although China still holds the dubious distinction of being the most repressive country when it comes to Internet use, the Middle East is not far behind.
Iran, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Syria and Egypt in particular have been singled out as "Enemies of the Internet" according to an annual report issued by Reporters Without Borders. Turkey was listed as "under surveillance."
"Censoring political and social content with the latest technological tools by arresting and harassing netizens, using omnipresent surveillance and ID registration which compromise surfer anonymity – repressive governments are acting on their threats," the report reads.
In an interview with Agence France Press, the group's Washington director, Clothilde Le Coz, said some of those censorship tools are provided by US tech companies like Cisco Systems, which has been accused by Internet advocates of providing censorship technology to China.
Earlier this month, the United States lawmakers criticized the role of U.S. tech companies in aiding Internet censorship abroad, with Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin pledging to introduce legislation that would require companies to take "reasonable steps" to protect human rights.
The report from Reporters Without Borders report also warned against "digital segregation" due to the implementation of national Intranets in countries like China, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
In partnership with Google, the organization also awarded its first "Netizen Prize" to the Iranian women's rights activists behind the website Change for Equality. Google itself has been accused of positioning itself as the champion of Internet freedom only after it suffered an embarrassing cyber-attack in China.
--Meris Lutz in Beirut
Graphic: Reporters Without Borders anti-censorship campaign logo. Credit: www.rsf.org