Monday, December 28, 2009

Report Draws Bleak Picture of Internet Freedom in Arab World

Egypt – Regimes throughout the Arab world are consistently censoring the Internet and arresting and torturing Internet users, a new human rights report has claimed.

The 235-page report, “One Social Network With a Rebellious Message”, examines Internet freedom in 20 Arab countries.

“In the Arab world, where the most repressive regimes lie, the Internet has been a tool used to bring democracy and free expression to the region,” read the report, issued by the Egypt-based, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI). “This new force cannot be stopped by governments’ actions of censorship, blocking the internet and arresting and even torturing internet users.”

The report looks at four online platforms – blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – as examples of Internet-based tools which Arab Internet users, especially young people, use to express their opinions, expose corruption and counter repression.

“The problem is that there are no laws to regulate Internet usage,” Rawda Ahmed, a lawyer and head of the legal division at ANHRI told The Media Line. “Here in Egypt, there are many internet users, bloggers and Facebook users? Many of them are arrested, tortured or illegally detained, and receive arrest warrants under the Emergency Law.”

The report found that Syria also employed its Emergency Law to censor and repress Internet users.

In Saudi Arabia, the report said, religious authorities issued fatwas, or religious decrees, to ban certain

websites the government was unable to block.

According to the report the number of Internet users has reached 58 million in the Arab world, of which only users in Lebanon, Algeria and Somalia have Internet freedom.

The report claimed that the relative freedom experienced by Internet users in Lebanon and Somalia is mainly due to the widespread practice of phone tapping in Lebanon and the government’s engagement in a conflict in Somalia.

The report found that Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, countries which allowed Internet freedom in the past, have started to show a repressive attitude towards Internet users, while Egypt has become the Arab world’s most repressive country towards Internet users.

Egypt stopped the policy of blocking websites five years ago, but has heightened its oppression of bloggers and Internet users.

“The number of Internet users and bloggers in the Arab world who actually deal with political issues is only a few thousand,” the report said. “But these activists and bloggers have managed to shed light on corruption and oppression and are getting many forces and opposition blocs on their side.”

The two Arab League members not included in the report are Djibouti and the Comoros Islands, for lack of information on Internet usage in these countries.

Statistics on communications in the Arab world from the report: – 58 million Internet users – 176 million mobile phones – 34 million land lines – 12 million Facebook users – 600,000 bloggers, a quarter of them active – Algeria has the highest numbers of Internet cafes – around 16,000 – Egypt has the highest number of Internet users – 15 million and also the largest number of YouTube users – Mauritania has the lowest number of Internet users, with 60,000 – Countries with the highest number of Facebook users are Egypt, Algeria and Lebanon – The UAE has the highest number of mobile phone users

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