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Home > Publications > Quill > Staying the course in cyberspace


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Thursday, September 27, 2007
Staying the course in cyberspace

Bruce Swaffield

One of the most perilous places to be a journalist these days is out there in cyberspace — the electronic universe of e-mail, instant messaging, message boards, blogs, vlogs and podcasts.

In this new world of virtual reality, there is nothing unreal about the number of people worldwide who have been arrested and imprisoned in recent years for “misusing” the Internet. In fact, Reporters Without Borders (a href=http://www.rsf.org>www.rsf.org) labeled this past season the “Black Summer for Internet users and cyber-dissidents.”

According to RSF, “At least 11 websites have been definitively or temporarily closed or blocked (in China) since 1 July, while others have been forced to remove content that upset the authorities. We are witnessing a crackdown on the Chinese Internet that could be linked to the preparation of the next Communist Party congress in October.”

Cases involving online journalists have grown steadily since 1997, when the Committee to Protect Journalists (a href=http://www.cpj.org>www.cpj.org) announced that the first Internet reporter had been jailed.

“The 2006 figure (49 persons) is the highest number of Internet journalists CPJ has ever tallied in its annual survey,” the organization reported in December.

Less than a month later, RSF reported the number of cyber journalists in jail worldwide had climbed higher.

“Sixty people are currently in jail for posting criticism of governments online, with China’s 50 making it by far the world’s worst prison for cyber-dissidents. The Chinese have been aped by other countries — four such dissidents are in jail in Vietnam, three in Syria and one each in Tunisia, Libya and Iran. The cyber-police and information ministry are intervening with increasing frequency and, in one case, an Internet user was arrested because of an outspoken post about the current flooding in China.”

The media in cyberspace

Web site editor Kamran Mir Hazar was released Aug. 9 after being held in jail for nine hours by the National Directorate of Security in Afghanistan. “Hazar’s arrest was arbitrary and illegal,” RSF said. “We are relieved about his release, but we condemn the methods used by the Afghan authorities.” Hazar told the organization he was kept in handcuffs during the interrogations about his online posts and articles.

The wife of a blogger was taken into custody by police because of her husband’s Web site, Malaysia Today. There is continuing harassment, according to RSF, by the government toward “bloggers and their families after Marine Lee, the wife of blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, was questioned by police in a Kuala Lumpur police station (Aug. 8). … The ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) filed a complaint against Raja Petra on 23 July about an 11 July article considered insulting to the king.”

Because of national security concerns, Zimbabwe has enacted new surveillance laws over nearly all forms of communication. RSF expressed concern that the Interception of Communications Act, signed by President Robert Mugabe on Aug. 3, “enables the government to intercept phone calls, e-mails and faxes with the declared aim of protecting national security.”

There is growing concern about Internet censorship after Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko vowed to “put an end to the anarchy” occurring online. “We cannot allow this great technical success by humankind to become a news sewer,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying.

Thailand enacted the Computer Crime Act in mid-July, giving authorities broad power to monitor all online and computer files accessed by individuals.

Facts about cyberspace

In the United States, 70 percent of adults use the Internet: 91 percent of those either check e-mail or use a search engine; 67 percent go online for news; and 62 percent surf the Web for fun.

Throughout the world, there are nearly 1.2 billion Internet users, with 437 million in Asia, 322 million in Europe, 233 million in North America and 110 million in Latin America.

There were more than 100 million Web sites as of late last year, according to Netscape. “In the November 2006 survey, we received responses from 101,435,253 sites, up from 97.9 million sites last month,” a release reported. At that time, the number of Web sites was rising by 3.5 million per month.

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