Web censorship: Correspondent reports
As human rights group Amnesty International launches a global campaign
to try to halt censorship of the internet by governments, BBC
correspondents report from some countries where web users face difficulties.
CHINA: RUPERT WINGFIELD-HAYES, BEIJING
Officially China does not censor the internet. According to the Chinese
government, its internet regulation is no different from that in
America, Britain, or anywhere else in the world.
China says it only blocks internet sites that are damaging, such as
pornographic sites, or ones promoting things like terrorism.
The reality of China's internet is very different.
Just try logging on to the BBC News website from an internet cafe in
China. You can't. The same goes for websites for The New York Times,
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and a host of others which
could hardly be described as pornographic or "dangerous".
China probably has the most sophisticated internet monitoring and
censorship system in the world. In the last few years it has spent tens
of millions of dollars building what has come to be known as the "Great
Firewall of China". In the past, whole websites were blocked. Today the
system can block out individual parts of websites.
In its quest to control the internet China has sought help from
overseas. Some large, US-based computer software companies are believed
to have sold Beijing the sophisticated software needed to run its
filtering system. Companies like Google and Yahoo! have also been
accused of co-operating in China's internet censorship.
Google, for example, has modified its Chinese language search engine so
that it does not show results for sites the Chinese government deems
Inside China there is an even larger effort to control the country's own
Internet service providers (ISPs) are required by law to monitor their
own websites and chat-rooms for "dangerous content". Every ISP in China
has its own staff of "web police". On top of that government employs
thousands more who constantly scan the Chinese web, closing down any
site or blog that is considered subversive.
For those Chinese who persist in using the internet to criticize
Communist party rule, the end result can be a prison cell. Three young
men were recently sentenced to prison terms of eight to ten years for
using the internet to send "sensitive" information to foreign based
CUBA: STEPHEN GIBBS, HAVANA
Cuba has vowed to be a force to be reckoned with in the digital era.
Thousands of Cubans are being trained in a new school for computer
technology on the outskirts of Havana. Free computer clubs have been set
up across the country. Even the smallest rural schools are being
provided with their own terminals.
But at the same time the government is working hard to prevent its
citizens from surfing the net without restraint. Shops in Havana might
appear to sell high-quality computers, but actually making a purchase is
impossible for Cubans without special approval, which is rarely granted.
Similar restrictions are in place for anyone who might want to open up
an account with the state internet service provider. Exceptions include
senior government officials, academic researchers, and foreigners.
The authorities say these regulations are in place in order to ensure
the internet in Cuba is used for "social and collective use."
Although all Cuban media is rigorously state controlled, the government
rejects accusations that it is censoring the net.
It concedes that some sites are blocked, but say these are "terrorist,
xenophobic, or pornographic". Websites based in the US which publish
articles by dissidents from within Cuba are generally inaccessible.
The government says that what it is doing is "prioritising" the
internet, for use by sectors such as education and health. Essential, it
says, given Cuba's limited resources, and limited bandwidth.
The bandwidth problem is blamed on the United States. As a result of the
US trade embargo, Cuba cannot link up to the web via a direct fibre
optic line. Instead it has to use more expensive satellite links.
Thousands of Cubans get around their governments restrictions and access
the internet via the black market. User IDs and passwords are sold by
state employees whose jobs give them legal access. Some log on via home
made computers built from smuggled parts.
A legal alternative is to go to one of the cyber cafes that are being
set up across the country. But these have another barrier - cost. Half
an hour surfing the web costs around $3. That might be comparable to the
price in other parts of the world, but in Cuba, where the average salary
is $15 a month, it is substantial.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: JULIA WHEELER, DUBAI
In the United Arab Emirates, internet censorship centres on two distinct
areas; pornography and the criticism of Gulf governments. While the
majority of the multi-national population welcomes the blocking of
pornography sites, the same cannot be said for the more politically
From the UAE, attempting to access sites like www.uaeprison.com or
www.arabtimes.com (published in the United States) brings up an apology
for the site being blocked and an explanation; it is "due to its content
being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral
values of the United Arab Emirates."
It is not clear how the monopoly internet provider, Etisilat, determines
what contravenes the country's values. There is a right of reply on any
blocked site message though, allowing surfers to suggest it be made
For many, the censorship of sites which question, discuss or oppose the
ruling families of the Gulf states and their absolute power, is
anachronistic. The UAE is one of the fastest developing countries in the
world, but this development is far more economic than political.
Satirical blogs, parodying the city and its residents, such as
secretdubai.blogspot.com, www.dubaienquirer.com and
onebigconstructionsite.blogspot.com can be found.
Internet users in Dubai's commercial free zones - like Dubai Internet
City, Dubai Media City and Knowledge Village - are able to sidestep the
strict state censorship by using a different proxy. The more technically
savvy users in other parts of the country are also finding ways to
access the banned sites they want to view.
In March, there were reports internet cafe users could have their
personal details recorded and kept on file. The explanation from the
authorities was that this was to curb "cyber crime" including hacking
and sending spam emails, but it has brought into focus questions of
The opening-up of the telecoms sector which is due to allow another
state-run company, Du, to operate from later this year is unlikely to
change the position on blocked sites.
Perhaps one of the biggest annoyances for the mostly expatriate
population in the Emirates is the inaccessibility of internet telephony
sites like www.skype.com. This is widely seen as economic censorship;
the state wanting to ensure continuing large profits through migrant
workers making international telephone calls.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/05/29 07:21:20 GMT