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Kazakhstan, Georgia Targeted for Internet

VIENNA -- Kazakhstan and Georgia are among countries imposing excessive restrictions on how people use the Internet, a new report says, warning that regulations are having a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

"Governing the Internet," issued this week by the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, called the online policing "a bitter reminder of the ease with which some regimes -- democracies and dictatorships alike -- seek to suppress speech that they disapprove of, dislike or simply fear."

"Speaking out has never been easier than on the web. Yet at the same time we are witnessing the spread of Internet censorship," the report says.

Miklos Haraszti, who heads the OSCE's media freedom office, said about two dozen countries practice censorship, and others have adopted needlessly restrictive legislation and government policy.

Among those is Kazakhstan, whose efforts to rein in Internet journalism, in the name of national security, the report says, is reminiscent of Soviet-era "spy mania."

Georgian law contains numerous provisions curbing freedom of expression online, the report says.

Web sites, blogs and personal pages are all subject to criminal as well as civil prosecution in Kazakhstan, and the country's information minister, Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, has vowed to purge Kazakh sites of "dirt" and "lies."

"Those who think it is impossible to control the Internet can continue living in a world of illusions," Yertysbayev told Vremya Novostei in a recent interview.

In the most publicized instance of a government crackdown, Kazakh authorities took control of .kz Internet domains in 2005, and then revoked a domain it considered offensive that was operated by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, creator of the movie "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."

Baron Cohen since has relocated his satirical web site.

The OSCE report warns that Kazakhstan's approach to the Internet has produced a hostile atmosphere where "any dissident individual, organization or an entire country could be named an 'enemy of the nation.'"

In a speech at OSCE headquarters Thursday in Vienna, Yertysbayev insisted his country was committed to democracy and the creation of what he called an "e-government" that would expand Internet access and make "our information sphere more open and our media more free."

Georgia, the report says, has laws on the books that contain "contradictory and ill-defined" provisions "which on certain occasions might give leverage for illegitimate limitation of freedom of expression on the Internet."

"It is important to support the view of the World Press Freedom Committee that 'governance' must not be allowed to become a code word for government regulation of Internet content," it says.

Haraszti cited separate research carried out by the OpenNet Initiative, a trans-Atlantic group that tracks Internet filtering and surveillance, which also points to questionable online restrictions in Belarus, China, Hong Kong, Sudan, Tunisia, Uzbekistan and elsewhere.

(The Moscow Times 30.vii.07)

 
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