More than 100 websites blocked in growing wave of online censorship
|Saturday, December 8,2007 16:26|
Reporters Without Borders is concerned that the number of websites to which access is blocked in Syria has been growing steadily for the past
month. More than 100 websites, including the video-sharing site YouTube, the blog platform Blogspot and the email service Hotmail, are now inaccessible.
“We call on the authorities to explain what is going on,” the press freedom organisation said. “The number of websites rendered inaccessible doubled in two weeks. We do not believe all this suddenly happened for technical reasons as a common feature of all these sites is that they contained criticism of the government. Under the press code, a court order is required to close down a website. We therefore regard this as arbitrary and unwarranted censorship.”
In all, nearly 110 websites are known to be blocked. The latest site to be blocked was Amazon.com on 30 November. When contacted by Reporters Without Borders, the Syria Computer Society, one of the country’s main ISPs, said the Internet was not censored that these problems originated in the computers of the individual Internet users.
The authorities have been blocking access to the social networking service Facebook on Syria’s Internet servers since 19 November without giving any explanation. The Syrian human rights commission’s site is also blocked, as is another independent human rights monitoring site.
Elaph.com, a news website that is very popular in the Arab world (with around 1.5 million visits a day), is also inaccessible. It has also been censored in Saudi Arabia since May 2006 without any explanation being provided by the Saudi authorities. A Syrian journalist, Habib Saleh, spent 27 months in prison for writing articles for Elaph.com.
Syria has become an Internet “black hole” since Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father as president. Access to opposition online publications is systematically blocked, while dissidents and independent journalists are hounded mercilessly when they post articles on the Internet. The authorities used a filtering system called “Thundercache” to control online content, as well as to filter for viruses and prevent pirating of video files.