Web Site Story


Press Freedom Index 2006

If you can manipulate news, a judge can manipulate the law.
A smart lawyer can keep a killer out of jail, a smart accountant can keep a thief from paying taxes,
a smart reporter could ruin your reputation - unfairly.

- Mario Cuomo





Country Score
149 Gambia 54.0 159 Nepal 73.5
--- Yemen 54.0 160 Ethiopia 75.0
151 Belarus 57.0 161 Saudi Arabia 76.0
152  Libya 62.5 162 Iran 90.9
153 Syria 63.0 163 China 94.0
154 Iraq 66.8 164 Burma 94.8
155 Vietnam 67.3 165 Cuba 95.0
156 Laos 67.5 166 Eritrea 97.5
157 Pakistan 70.3 167 Turkmenistan 98.5
158 Uzbekistan 71.0 168 North Korea 109.0

The worst

The Index rated 168 countries based on a questionnaire with 50 criteria for assessing the state of press freedom in each country.  It includes every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation issues, searches and harassment).  In addition to taking into account
abuses attributable to the state, those carried out by armed militias, clandestine organisations or pressure groups are also considered.  The lower the score attained, the higher the degree of press freedom in that respective country.  Although there is no specific information given regarding how the overall score was compiled, the top-rated countries (Finland, Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands) received an overall score of 0.50, with the median (Liberia) receiving a score of 19.0.  The overall average score for the Index was 27.2.

Source: brookings.edu p 35 compiled by "Reporters Without Borders", accessible at: rsf.org

Third Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index

●East Asia and Middle East have worst press freedom records.  All EU members are among the first 40; Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia lag behind.●

Reporters Without Borders announces its third annual worldwide index of press freedom.  Such freedom is threatened most in East Asia (with North Korea at the bottom of the entire list at 167th place, followed by Burma 165th, China 162nd, Vietnam 161st and Laos 153rd) and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia 159th, Iran 158th, Syria 155th, Iraq 148th).  In these countries, an independent media either does not exist or journalists are persecuted and censored on a daily basis.  Freedom of information and the safety of journalists are not guaranteed there.  Continuing war has made Iraq the most deadly place on earth for journalists in recent years, with 44 killed there since fighting began in March last year.

But there are plenty of other black spots around the world for press freedom.  Cuba (in 166th place) is second only to China as the biggest prison for journalists, with 26 in jail (China has 27).  Since spring last year, these 26 independent journalists have languished in prison after being given sentences of between 14 and 27 years.  No privately-owned media exist in Turkmenistan (164th) and Eritrea (163rd), whose people can only read, see or listen to government-controlled media dominated by official propaganda.

The greatest press freedom is found in northern Europe (Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway), which is a haven of peace for journalists.  Of the top 20 countries, only three (New Zealand 9th, Trinidad and Tobago 11th and Canada 18th) are outside Europe.  Other small and often impoverished democracies appear high on the list, such as El Salvador (28th) and Costa Rica (35th) in Central America, along with Cape Verde (38th) and Namibia (42nd) in Africa and Timor-Leste (57th) in Asia.

Source: www.rsf.org  26 October 2004

Second World Press Freedom Ranking (October 2003)

Cuba second from last, just ahead of North Korea, United States and Israel singled out for actions beyond their borders

Reporters Without Borders published its second world press freedom ranking on 20 October 2003.  As in 2002, the most catastrophic situation is to be found in Asia, especially North Korea, Burma and Laos.  Second from last in the ranking, Cuba is today the world's biggest prison for journalists.  The United States and Italy were given relatively low rankings.

Eight countries are found in the bottom 10 positions:

bulletNorth Korea

Independent news media are either non-existent in these countries, or are constantly repressed by the authorities.  Journalists there work in extremely difficult conditions, with no freedom and no security.  A number of them are imprisoned in Burma, China and Iran.

Cuba is in 165th position, second from last.  Twenty-six independent journalists were arrested in the spring of 2003 and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 27 years, making Cuba the world's biggest prison for journalists.  They were accused of writing articles for publication abroad that played into the hands of "imperialist interests."  Eritrea, in 162nd position, has the worst situation in Africa.  Privately-owned news media have been banned there for the past two years and 14 journalists are being held in undisclosed locations.

To compile this ranking, Reporters Without Borders asked journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists to fill out a questionnaire evaluating respect for press freedom in a particular country.  A total of 166 countries are included in the ranking (as against 139 last year).  The other countries were left out because of a lack of reliable, well-supported data.  Wealth and press freedom don't always go together.  As in 2002, the ranking shows that a country's respect for press freedom is not solely linked to its economic development.  The top 50 include countries that are among the poorest in the world, such as Benin (29th position), Timor-Leste (30th) and Madagascar (46th).  Conversely, the 50 countries that respect press freedom least include such rich nations as Bahrain (117th) and Singapore (144th).

Special situation of the United States and Israel

The ranking distinguishes behaviour at home and abroad in the cases of the United States and Israel.  They are ranked in 31st and 44th positions respectively as regards respect for freedom of expression on their own territory, but they fall to the 135th and 146th positions as regards behaviour beyond their borders.  The Israeli army's repeated abuses against journalists in the occupied territories and the US army's responsibility in the death of several reporters during the war in Iraq constitute unacceptable behaviour by two nations that never stop stressing their commitment to freedom of expression.

General deterioration in the Arab world

The war in Iraq played a major role in an increased crackdown on the press by the Arab regimes.  Concerned about maintaining their image and facing public opinion largely opposed to the war, they stepped up control of the press and increased pressure on journalists, who are forced to use self-censorship.  Kuwait (102nd) replaced Lebanon (106th) as the Arab world's leader as regards respect for freedom of expression because of cases of censorship in Lebanon, together with abusive judicial proceedings and an attack on the television station Futur TV.  Saudi Arabia (156th), Syria (155th), Libya (153rd) and Oman (152nd) used all the means at their disposal to prevent the emergence of a free and independent press.

In Morocco (131st), the hopes pinned on Mohammed VI when he became king in July 1999 have been dashed.  Independent newspapers are still subject to constant harassment from the authorities.  Ali Lmrabet, the publisher and editor of two satirical weeklies, was sentenced in June 2003 to three years in prison for "insulting the person of the king" because of articles and cartoons touching on taboo subjects.

European Union gets good rankings, except Italy and Spain

Italy received a poor ranking (53rd) compared with the other European Union countries for the second year running.  Silvio Berlusconi's conflict of interests as head of government and owner of a media empire is still unresolved.  Furthermore, a draft law to reform radio and TV broadcasting, tailored to Berlusconi's interests, is likely to increase the threats to news diversity in Italy.  Spain's relatively low ranking (42nd) is due to difficulties for journalists in the Basque country.  The terrorist organisation ETA has stepped up its threats against the news media, promising to target journalists whose coverage does not match its view of the situation.  Furthermore, the necessary fight against terrorism has affected press freedom, with the forced closure as a "preventive measure" of the Basque newspaper Egunkaria, whose senior staff are suspected of collaborating with ETA.  France is ranked as low as 26th because of its archaic defamation legislation, the increasingly frequent challenges to the principle of confidentiality of sources and the repeated abusive detention of journalists by police.

Former USSR still lags behind

The situation remains worrying in Russia (148th), Ukraine (132nd) and Belarus (151st).  A truly independent press exists in Russia, but Russia's poor ranking is justified by the censorship of anything to do with the war in Chechnya, several murders and the recent abduction of the Agence France-Presse correspondent in Ingushetia.  Russia continues to be one of the world's deadliest countries for journalists.

Press freedom is virtually non-existent in much of central Asia, especially Turkmenistan (158th) and Uzbekistan (154th).  No criticism of the authorities is tolerated.

Non-state violence

Several countries with a democratically-elected government and a free and independent press have poor rankings.  This is most notably the case with Bangladesh (143rd), Colombia (147th) and Philippines (118th).  Journalists in these countries are the victims of violence that comes not only from the state but also from political parties, criminal gangs or guerrilla groups. In other cases, such as Nepal (150th), the press is caught in the cross fire between security forces and rebels.  Such violence results in considerable self-censorship by the news media, which do not dare to broach such subjects as corruption, collusion between political leaders and organised crime, or sectarian clashes.  At the same time, the authorities very often fail to respond to this violence with the appropriate measures, namely protection for journalists and the punishment of those responsible.

News is the victim of war in Africa Wars and serious political crises have inevitably had an impact on press freedom in Africa.  The three countries that have fallen most in the ranking in the past 12 months are Côte d'Ivoire (137th), Liberia (132nd) and Guinea-Bissau (118th).  Local and foreign journalists were exposed to the violence of the warring parties in Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia, while the military closed down news media in Guinea-Bissau.

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world, as well as the right to inform the public and to be informed, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Reporters Without Borders has nine national sections (in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), representatives in Abidjan, Bangkok, Istanbul, Montreal, Moscow, New York, Tokyo and Washington and more than a hundred correspondents worldwide.

Source: rsf.fr

How the Ranking Was Compiled

This ranking measures the state of press freedom in the world.  It reflects the degree of freedom that journalists and news organisations enjoy in each country, and the efforts undertaken by the state to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.  It is a snapshot of the situation in a precise period.  It only takes account of events between 1 September 2002 and 1 September 2003. It does not look at human rights violations in general, just press freedom violations.

To compile this ranking, Reporters Without Borders designed a questionnaire with 53 criteria for assessing the state of press freedom in each country.  It includes every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of issues, searches and harassment).  It registers the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these press freedom violations.  It takes account of the legal and judicial situation affecting the news media (such as the penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly in certain areas and the existence of a regulatory body) and the behaviour of the authorities towards the state-owned news media and international press.  It also takes account of the main obstacles to the free flow of information on the Internet.

Reporters Without Borders has taken account not only of abuses attributable to the state, but also those by armed militia, clandestine organisations or pressure groups that can pose a real threat to press freedom.  The questionnaire was sent to people who have a deep knowledge of the state of press freedom in a country or a number of countries: local journalists or foreign reporters based in a country, researchers, jurists, regional specialists and the researchers working for Reporters Without Borders’ International Secretariat.  The countries that were ranked are those for which Reporters Without Borders received completed questionnaires from a number of independent sources.  Others were not included because of a lack of reliable, well-supported input. In cases of ties, countries were ranked by alphabetical order.

Finally, in no case should this ranking be viewed as an indication of the quality of the press in the countries concerned.  Reporters Without Borders defends press freedom, without taking a position on the quality of the editorial content of the news media.  No account was taken of any breaches of professional ethics or codes of conduct.

Reporters Without Borders - International secretariat
5 rue Geoffroy-Marie - 75009 Paris - France
Phone : 33 1 44 83 84 84 / Fax : 33 145 23 11 51
rsf.org  / index@rsf.org

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world, as well as the right to inform the public and to be informed, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Reporters Without Borders has nine national sections (in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), representatives in Abidjan, Bangkok, Istanbul, Montreal, Moscow, New York, Tokyo and Washington and more than a hundred correspondents worldwide.

Source: rsf.fr

The Freedom of the Press Is Never Safe

[I've highlighted in purple what I see as the most relevant point.  In these days of instant internet information it's easy to forget how others still live.]

The Paris-based "Reporters sans frontières" (Reporters Without Borders) works to protect the freedom of journalists worldwide and the organisation has just revamped its website.  The new version is both more accessible and more comprehensive than the old one which dated back to 1994.  For example, visitors can now download copyright-free images taken during field expeditions in countries where violations of press freedom are committed.  Audio documents will soon be available as well.

Emphasis has been placed on a better follow-up of the cases that RSF denounces, like imprisonment, trials and the like.  The updating of the site is also more regular now.  Three languages are available: French, English and Spanish.  Since the beginning of October, a new section presents each week a text written by an independent journalist who is not allowed to publish in his own country.  Petitions in favour of journalists are also available for signing.

If you want to keep abreast of the organisation's activities register for the newsletter; if you want or need more practical knowledge you can download the "Practical Guide for Journalists" which answers such questions as "What are the rules for survival in a war zone?" "How should first aid be given to someone who is injured?" and "What protection does a journalist enjoy when covering an armed conflict?"

An interesting section is the one called "The enemies of the Internet" which studies 20 countries that RSF regards as enemies of the Internet because they control access totally or partially, have censored websites or taken action against users.  "The Internet is a two-edged sword for authoritarian regimes.  On one hand, it enables any citizen to enjoy an unprecedented degree of freedom of speech and therefore constitutes an threat to the government.  On the other, however, the Internet is a major factor in economic growth, due in particular to online trade and the exchange of technical and scientific information, which prompts some of these governments to support its spread."

In our dear neighbour and ASEAN partner, Burma, censorship is total due to a state monopoly on access.  In addition, anyone who owns a computer must declare it to the government or face up to 15 years in prison.

A free country no doubt.

Source: Web Site Story by Xavier Galland in The Nation (Bangkok) 24 October 2000 oxag@ku.ac.th

China Urged to Free 54 Jailed in Internet Use

Beijing - Amnesty International called Wednesday for the release of 54 people jailed in China for expressing opinions on the Internet, citing a sharp rise in the number detained for anything from political speech to spreading news about SARS.  In a report, the group, based in London, said the 54 cases it had documented represented a significant increase from the 33 people listed in its report of November 2002.  It said the 54 cases were most likely just "a fraction" of the actual number of people detained for opinions expressed online.

"China is said to have in place the most extensive censorship of the Internet of any country in the world," Amnesty said.  The organisation said the prisoners included people who signed online petitions for government reform, published nonofficial news about severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, communicated with dissident groups overseas or called for a review of Beijing's violent crackdown in 1989 on demonstrators near Tiananmen Square.  Detainees also include followers of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong, it said.  China's Foreign Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment. In the past, it has denounced Amnesty International's claims as biased and baseless.

Amnesty International said the number of people detained for harbouring information about SARS was especially hard to determine.  The Chinese government was criticised for keeping the SARS outbreak last year under wraps in its initial weeks, and many in China resorted to sharing rumours about the disease by email messages, online bulletin boards and and cellphone text messages.  While China eventually allowed more reporting on SARS, Amnesty renewed its call for Beijing to ensure that the news media could report freely on the disease in the event of another large outbreak.

As Internet use surges in China, so does the government's efforts to control it, Amnesty said.  Amnesty said the 54 detainees - all of them "prisoners of conscience" - received sentences of between 2 and 12 years.

Source: The New York Times (AP) Wednesday 28 January 2004

13 Internet Enemies in 2006

Three countries - Nepal, Maldives and Libya - have been removed from the annual list of Internet enemies, which Reporters Without Borders publishes.  But many bloggers were harassed and imprisoned this year in Egypt, so it has been added to the roll of shame reserved for countries that systematically violate online free expression.

Countries in Alphabetical Order:

bulletBelarus - The government has a monopoly of telecommunications and does not hesitate to block access to opposition websites if it feels the need, especially at election time.  Independent online publications are also often hacked.  In March 2006, for example, several websites critical of President Alexandre Lukashenko mysteriously disappeared from the Internet for several days.
bulletBurma - The Burmese government’s Internet policies are even more repressive than those of its Chinese and Vietnamese neighbours.  The military junta clearly filters opposition websites.  It keeps a very close eye on Internet cafes, in which the computers automatically execute screen captures every 5 minutes, in order to monitor user activity.  The authorities targeted Internet telephony and chat services in June, blocking Google’s Gtalk, for example.  The aim was two-fold: to defend the profitable long-distance telecommunications market, which is controlled by state companies, as well as to stop cyber-dissidents from using a means of communication that is hard to monitor.
bulletChina - China unquestionably continues to be the world’s most advanced country in Internet filtering.  The authorities carefully monitor technological progress to ensure that no new window of free expression opens up,  After initially targeting websites and chat forums, they nowadays concentrate on blogs and video exchange sites.  China now has nearly 17 million bloggers.  This is an enormous number, but very few of them dare to tackle sensitive issues, still less criticise government policy.  Firstly, because China’s blog tools all include filters that block "subversive" word strings.  Secondly, because the companies operating these services, both Chinese and foreign, are pressured by the authorities to control content.  They employ armies of moderators to clean up the content produced by the bloggers.  Finally, in a country in which 52 people are currently in prison for expressing themselves too freely online, self-censorship is obviously in full force.  Just 5 years ago, many people thought Chinese society and politics would be revolutionised by the Internet, a supposedly uncontrollable medium.  Now, with China enjoying increasing geopolitical influence, people are wondering the opposite, whether perhaps China’s Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, may one day be imposed on the rest of the world.
bulletCuba - With less than 2% of its population online, Cuba is one of the most backward Internet countries.  An investigation carried out by Reporters Without Borders in October revealed that the Cuban government uses several levers to ensure that this medium is not used in a "counter-revolutionary" way.  Firstly, it has more or less banned private Internet connections.  To surf the Internet or check their e-mail, Cubans have to go to public access points such as Internet cafes, universities and "youth computer clubs" where their activity is more easily monitored.  Secondly, the computers in all the Internet cafes and leading hotels contain software installed by the Cuban police that triggers an alert message whenever "subversive" key-words are spotted.  The regime also ensures that there is no Internet access for dissidents and independent journalists, for whom communicating with people abroad is an ordeal.  Finally, the government also relies on self-censorship.  You can get 20 years in prison for writing "counter-revolutionary" articles for foreign websites.  You can even get 5 years just for connecting to the Internet illegally.  Few Internet users dare to run the risk of defying the regime’s censorship.
bulletEgypt - Aside from a few sites linked to the Muslim Brotherhood’s religious movements, Egypt does little online filtering.  But President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, displays an extremely disturbing authoritarianism as regards the Internet.  Three bloggers were arrested in June 2006 and were held for 2 to 3 months for calling for democratic reforms.  Others have been harassed, such as Coptic blogger Hela Hemi Botros, who was forced to close down her blog in August under pressure from the police.  Finally, a Council of State administrative court recently ruled that the authorities could block, suspend of close down any website likely to pose a threat to "national security."  This could open the way to extensive online censorship.
bulletIran - Repression of bloggers seems to have declined in 2006.  Whereas around 20 were imprisoned in 2005, only Arash Sigarchi is in jail at the moment.  But I nternet filtering has stepped up and Iran today boasts of filtering 10 million "immoral" websites.  Pornographic sites, political sites and those dealing with religion are usually the ones most targeted.  But since the summer of 2006, the censors have concentrated on online publications dealing with women’s rights.  The authorities also recently decided to ban broadband connections.  This could be explained by a concern not to overload the very poor-quality Iranian network, but it could also be motivated by a desire to prevent the downloading of Western cultural products such as films and songs.
bulletNorth Korea - Like last year, North Korea continues to be the world’s worst Internet black hole.  Only a few officials are able to access the web, using connections rented from China.  The country’s domain name - .nk - has still not been launched and the few websites created by the North Korean government are hosted on servers in Japan or South Korea.  It is hard to believe this is simply the result of economic difficulties in a country which today is capable of manufacturing nuclear warheads.  The North Korean journalists who have found refuge in South Korea are very active on the Internet, especially on the www.dailynk.com website.
bulletSaudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia does not hide its online censorship.  Unlike China, where website blocking is disguised as technical problems, Saudi Arabia’s filters clearly tell Internet users that certain websites are banned.  Censorship concentrates on pornographic content, but it also targets opposition websites, Israeli publications, or sites dealing with homosexuality.  Blogs also pose a problem to the Saudi censors.  Last year they tried to completely block access to the country’s biggest blog tool, blogger.com.  But they backed off a few days later and now they just block the blogs that are deemed unacceptable.  In June of this year, for example, the intimate diary of "Saudi Eve," a young woman who dared to talk about her love life and criticise government censorship, was added to the blacklist.
bulletSyria - Syria is the Middle East’s biggest prison for cyber-dissidents, with three people currently detained for criticising the authorities online.  They are systematically tortured and subjected to inhumane conditions.  The government bans access to Arabic-language opposition sites and sites dealing with Syria’s Kurdish minority.
bulletTunisia - In 2005, Tunisia had the honour of hosting the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a big UN event about the Internet’s future.  Yet President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s Internet policies are among the most repressive in the world.  All the Internet cafes are state-controlled.  They filter web content and are under close police surveillance.  It is, for example, impossible to access the Reporters Without Borders website from inside Tunisia.  The security services also constantly harass independent bloggers and opposition website editors to ensure that self-censorship prevails.  One cyber-dissident, Mohammed Abbou, has been imprisoned since March 2005 for criticising the president in an online newsletter.
bulletTurkmenistan - With less than 1% of the population online, this is one of the world’s least connected countries.  President Separmurad Nyazov is a central Asian Kim Jong-Il, wielding total control over the media.  Not only is the Turkmen Internet censored, it is also forbidden territory for the vast majority of the population.
bulletUzbekistan - Official censorship seems to have become even tougher since the bloody crackdown on the pro-democracy protests in Andidjan in May 2005.  The iron-fisted government led by President Islam Karimov blocks access to most independent websites dealing with Uzbekistan, which are usually hosted on servers in Russia, and to NGO websites that criticise its human rights violations.
bulletVietnam - The Vietnamese government is negotiating its admission to the World Trade Organisation and is in the uncomfortable position of being squeezed by the international community.  Unlike neighbouring China, it is unable to completely ignore the demands of foreign diplomats.  It therefore seems to be tending to soften its control over news and information, and hesitates to crack down on dissidents.  Several cyber-dissidents, the most famous of whom was Pham Hong Son, were released in 2005 and 2006.  This relative forbearance seems to have breathed new life into Vietnam’s pro-democracy movement, which is making admirable use of the Internet to organise and circulate independently-sourced news domestically.  A group calling itself "8406" even launched an online petition in the summer of 2006, signed by hundreds of people using their real names, calling on the government to begin political reforms.  This use of the Internet by young democrats alarms the authorities, who are still often ready to use force to silence these cyber-dissidents.  Ten people have been arrested this year for what they said on the Internet.  Four of them are still detained.

Countries removed from the list:

bulletLibya - Reporters Without Borders confirmed, during a fact-finding visit, that the Internet is no longer censored in Libya.  Furthermore, no cyber-dissident has been detained since Abdel Razak Al Mansuri’s release in March 2006.  Reporters Without Borders nonetheless still regards President Muammar Gaddafi as a press freedom predator.
bulletMaldives - No cyber-dissident has been imprisoned in the Maldives since Fathimath Nisreen, Mohamed Zaki and Ahmad Didi were released between May 2005 and February 2006.  President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is still viewed by Reporters Without Borders as a press freedom predator but his policies towards the Internet no longer justify keeping his country on the list of Internet enemies.
bulletNepal - Reporters Without Borders has observed a marked improvement in freedom of expression since King Gyanendra backed down and democratic rule was restored in May 2006.  The Internet is no longer censored and no harassment or arbitrary detention of any blogger has been reported.

Source: rsf.org Reporters without Borders for Press Freedom 7 November 2006

Cubans Surf Close to Home as Web Access Restricted

A foreigner surfs the Internet at a modern Havana cybercafe
as a lone Cuban customer sits surrounded by turned-off computer terminals.
Cubans can only access the internet on government authorised accounts
otherwise they are mostly limited to sending and receiving e-mail
and surfing an Intranet of Cuban websites.

by Anthony Boadle

Havana - At a downtown Havana post office, Cubans line up for hours for their turn in the "surfing room."  When users get to one of the 4 computers, they can send and receive e-mail and surf an Intranet of Cuban Web sites, but access to the global Internet is barred.

Getting online is not easy in communist-run Cuba, where the state strictly controls all web servers and recently announced plans to crack down on illegal Internet access.  E-mail accounts are available at the Cuban Postal Service, but writing to friends abroad comes at price: a 3-hour prepaid card costs $4.50, which is 1/3 of the average Cuban monthly wage.  "It's very expensive for us, but this is the only way we can send e-mails at will," said Ignacio, a health ministry employee, facing a 2-hour wait.

At the recently opened Servi-Postal cybercafe in Havana's leafy Miramar district, Cubans who can afford the dollar prices wash down ham and cheese sandwiches with cold Bucanero beers.  But even here Cubans don't get to surf the World Wide Web.  "The Internet is for foreigners.  The Intranet is for Cubans," said Miguel Perez, managing the cybercafe in Havana's International Business Center where Cubans have to show identification and sign a contract to get an e-mail account.

Cubans say some small cybercafes do allow them Internet access, including the National Academy of Sciences' cybercafe where users are charged $5 an hour.  But President Fidel Castro's government, in power since a 1959 revolution, maintains that restricting access to the Internet is necessary for the social good in poor developing countries where the telecommunications infrastructure is insufficient.  Castro's critics say Cuba, like China, represses access to the Internet to stop the free flow of information and keep the lid on dissent in the one-party state.

Connectivity has grown quickly in recent years in the Caribbean nation of 11 million people.  There are 270,000 computers in the country, 65% of them connected to Cuba's Web, according to the government.  Cuban domain names which end in .cu have multiplied to 1,100, some of which are used solely for e-mail, and there are now 750 Cuban Internet sites.  Most are dedicated to informing the world about Cuba, either to attract tourism or counter the United States in an ideological war waged for 4 decades.

Cuba has more than 480,000 e-mail accounts, roughly the number of users, but only 98,000 users can legally surf the Internet, according to government figures.  Cubans are authorised to access to the Internet through their work places in government offices, hospitals, universities, research centres, state-run media, artists and writers unions or foreign companies.  "We have given priority to the social use of the Internet, in health, education, science, press and television, banking and other important areas of the economy," Communications Minister Ignacio Gonzalez told a newspaper recently.  He argued that regulating Internet usage was a democratic way to share limited resources in developing countries.  Gonzalez said Cuba lacked bandwidth to allow unrestricted access to the Internet and blamed the technological lag on trade sanctions the United States has imposed on the island since the Cold War.

With government authorisation needed to connect to the Internet, Cubans have increasingly sidestepped state control and turned to a black market for stolen or borrowed logon identities and passwords, costing up to $50 a month.

Three weeks ago the government decreed a crackdown on unauthorised Internet usage, ordering the state telephone monopoly ETECSA to stop illegal access.  Days later, apparently responding to protests, the main ISP in Cuba - E.net - announced that home users could connect if they paid in dollars, at a prohibitive rate for Cuban Web surfers of 8 cents a minutes.  The measure, which goes into effect on Saturday, will generate hard currency for Cuba's cash-strapped state and may have the effect of letting cost limit usage.  Many Cubans see it as a way to further tighten control over who gets to use the Internet and muzzle freedom of expression.

"The new measures, which limit and impede unofficial use, constitute yet another attempt to cut off Cubans' access to alternative views and a space for discussing them," said the human rights organisation Amnesty International.  Dissidents said the government was confining Internet access to its supporters.  They also complained that Cuba blocks access to the websites of exile groups and dissident news services such as Cubanet.org.

"The authorities thought they could control the flow of information on the Internet, but no one controls the Internet, not even the government of the United States," said dissident Vladimiro Roca, whose e-mail account was closed 2 years ago.  "The only thing they can do is limit access by Cubans and block the websites they don't like," said Roca.

Source: story.news.yahoo.com Wednesday 21 January 2004 photo credit Claudia Daut/Reuters

Laughing All the Way to Prison

by Aung Zaw

Zargana, Burma’s most famous comedian, dared to make jokes about the ruling generals.  Former dictator Ne Win even invited him to his residence to hear jokes about corruption and economic mismanagement.  The jokes made Ne Win and his cronies laugh.  Zargana openly admitted that he collected jokes from men on the street.  When the authorities eventually ordered him not to perform any more, he and his troupe went on stage with plasters covering their mouths.

The country’s current bunch of leaders didn’t find his jokes funny, so they tossed him in jail for several years.  Released in 1994 on the condition that he no longer practice as a comedian, Zargana immediately accepted an invitation to perform at a festival in Rangoon on his first day out of prison.  On stage, he launched into his jokes without fear.

Other comedians have also defied certain arrest to bring laughter to their audience.

Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw, two comedians from Mandalay, were thrown in prison in 1996 shortly after they performed at an Independence Day party hosted by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  Their humourous observations about corruption in the military government won almost non-stop applause, but the authorities were less than amused.  The pair was arrested, sentenced to 7 years in jail, and later shipped to a labor camp in Myitkyina, in remote Kachin State.

But it seems the threat of punishment can’t deter Burma’s comedians.  Myitta, a famous comedian, regularly appeared on state-controlled TV programs until he pushed his luck too far.  During one program, he asked a teenager appearing in a singing contest what grade she was in.  "I’m in grade 10," she replied.  To which Myitta added: "So, you have completed your studies."

At the time, the junta had closed all the universities and colleges in the country for fear of anti-government demonstrations.  As a result, students who were in 10th grade could not continue their education.  Myitta lost his job for joking about this sensitive matter, and is still banned from making public performances.

Source: irrawaddy.org

Terrorists and Their Lawyers

by Deborah L Rhode

Stanford, California - When Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the indictment of Lynne Stewart, the lawyer for the convicted terrorist Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, last week, the threat he exposed was less to national security than to individual liberty.  The indictment raises serious concerns about defendants' access to counsel.  First, such felony indictments could affect lawyers' willingness to defend despised groups, like suspected terrorists, at all.  Second, a Justice Department surveillance directive, being applied for the first time in this case, gives the government unchecked power to eavesdrop on confidential conversations between lawyers and any clients suspected of terrorism - without prior judicial authorisation or statutory basis.

Mr Abdel Rahman, a leader of the Egyptian Islamic Group, is serving a life sentence for conspiring to bomb Manhattan landmarks.  The indictment against his lawyer, Ms Stewart, charges that about two years ago she willfully violated an agreement not to pass messages to or from him.  It says she enabled him to transmit instructions to his followers through a translator and made a public statement that communicated his views.  She is also accused of misrepresenting the adequacy of his prison medical care.

Ms Stewart's office was searched, and confidential records and computer files were seized.  She faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

At this juncture, we do not know what evidence supports the government's charges or whether Ms Stewart violated the agreement limiting her communications with Mr Abdel Rahman.  But it should be a source of concern that lawyers must agree to such restrictions as a condition of communicating with their clients.

Lawyers who defend terrorists already pay an enormous price.  Hate mail, death threats, bomb scares and ostracism by other potential clients are routine costs of representing social pariahs.  Now the government has added the risk that lawyers suspected of being conduits of client messages will face wholesale invasions of privacy and felony indictments.

America's civil liberties depend on counsel willing to assert them.  John Adams, who reported losing half his practice after defending British officers charged in the Boston Massacre, considered that case "one of the best pieces of service that lever rendered for my country."  If the indictment against Ms Stewart signals a broader trend to crack down not just on terrorists but on those courageous enough to represent them, we are all at risk.

More troubling still is the Justice Department's unilateral assertion of increased authority to monitor lawyer-client communications.  Under a directive issued last fall, government surveillance is permissible whenever the attorney general determines that "a reasonable suspicion exists to believe that a particular inmate may use the communications with attorneys or their agents to further or facilitate acts of terrorism."

The directive applies not just to convicted terrorists but to detainees, including witnesses.  It was adopted without authorisation by Congress and with no opportunity for comment.  By dispensing with the normal requirements of judicial approval for wiretapping, it contradicts well settled case law.  It also erodes longstanding Fourth Amendment privacy protections and Sixth Amendment guarantees of effective assistance of counsel.

In effect, the attorney general has asserted unchecked authority to determine who may have confidential conversations with attorneys and who may not.  Such essentially lawless exercises of law-enforcement prerogatives lose sight of the liberties that we are fighting to preserve.

The last time an attorney general invoked national security justifications for warrantless wiretaps was during the Vietnam war protests.  In denying the government that power, the Supreme Court quoted an observation from Chief Justice Earl Warren that has obvious relevance today.  "It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of one of those liberties ... which make the defense of the Nation worthwhile."

Source: The New York Times Op-Ed Tuesday 16 April 2002

Big Brother Closes In

Every day Americans choose to give up a little privacy for a little more safety or a little more convenience.  Rarely does that loss seem a big deal.  Then comes a spate of headlines such as those in recent weeks:

bulletCar dealers are using cameras and microphones to record deals in progress.
bulletA new study says a third of wired workers have their online habits monitored by their bosses.
bulletTampa is using facial-recognition cameras to screen crowds in the local entertainment district for wanted criminals.  Cities in Virginia and California are considering following suit.
bulletRental car companies are installing satellite-tracking systems in their cars to keep tabs on their investment.  One company in Connecticut used data from its system to issue speeding tickets to its renters.
bulletNext month, Washington, DC will begin using automated cameras equipped with radar guns to nab speeders.
bulletSan Diego's use of sensor-equipped cameras to issue $270 tickets to red-light scofflaws has resulted in a court battle over unauthorised modifications to the system that nay have tainted evidence.

Alone, any one of these technologies might make sense.  Facial-recognition cameras can make public events safer.  Red-light cameras slash deadly light-running.  The device that allows car-rental companies to track their customers' speed also lets them open the door if locked out.

Nor is there any particular reason that a rental car company should be barred from tracking the use of its property, or that an employer should be prevented from monitoring its workers' productivity.  People who object can always choose to shop or work elsewhere.  If enough do, the policies will change.

Nevertheless, the advancing juggernaut of intrusion collectively conjures a discomforting vision: an Orwellian society in which every move is monitored, every record bared.  Another technology in the news lately even allows scanning of people's movements inside their homes by tracing the heat they give off.  The Supreme Court ruled that the use of such "thermal imaging" without a search warrant is unconstitutional.

Standing in the way of technological progress is usually as fruitless as it is counterproductive, unless some critical principle is at stake - such as the right to be free of government intrusion in your home.  The question is whether anyone will notice when that threshold is crossed next.

Source: USA Today Wednesday 11 July 2001

See also:

bulletIt's Just That Simple - ...federal agents now watch American citizens more closely than ever.  Such scrutiny seemed over the line to retired phone company worker Barry Reingold, after the FBI got interested in remarks Reingold made at his health club.  After loudly criticising the war in Afghanistan, Reingold had some unexpected visitors a few days later.  "I said, you know, 'Who's there?'  And they said, 'It's the FBI,'" said Reingold, 60...

Source: Funny Times December 2001

Also see:

bulletIt's for Your Own Good - for cartoons and articles relating to internet freedom.
bulletForgive Us Our Press Passes - ...some of us tell you true things, learned by questionable means.  This is the one that troubles me most.  I used to be a reporter and I can tell you that well-kept secrets are not generally dug out by conventional methods, but airing them may be an important public service...

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