December 12, 2011 | By Maira Sutton

This Week in Internet Censorship: Updates from Russia, Venezuela, Thailand and South Korea

Russia

On Thursday, prominent blogger and a leader of recent anti-corruption protests, Alexei Navalny was imprisoned for 15 days on charges of resisting the police. Navalny was one of hundreds arrested last week in recent widespread protests against political corruption and election fraud in the country. Navalny has been the leading voice in demanding social and political reform in Russia, spearheading an online campaign against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party for the past couple of years.

As political dissent grows in Russia, the state has started to position itself on the offensive. Last week, the Interior Ministery suggested a ban on Internet anonymity. Major-General Aleksey Moshkov said, “Social networks, along with advantages, often bring a potential threat to the foundations of society.” He claims that the goal of such a ban would be to fight political extremism, not to crack down on broader government criticism.  In light of Navalny’s arrest however, such claims are highly questionable. In addition to rehashing the same tired rhetoric often used to justify attacks on privacy and anonymity (i.e. “if you’ve got nothing to hide, why does it matter?”) this may be the be beginning of an informal campaign to pressure tech companies and social media sites to start requiring real name policies. 

EFF continues to stand for the right for user anonymity online, and opposes any attempts to impede this necessary right in the name of state security.

Venezuela

Twitter accounts of critics of the Chavez regime have been attacked by a wave of hacking over the past few months by a group supportive of the president and his policies. Global Voices released a report last week collecting reactions from the activists, scholars, artists, and the like who had their account compromised and hijacked to be exploited for presidential endorsements.

Many speculated that it was the government itself responsible for the hacking. However, the group N33 made a press release (in Spanish) two months ago that in fact they were the ones responsible for the attacks. They claimed that their motivation was to silence critics of their president, who abused their freedom of speech by defaming him. They have even asked Twitter to close parodic accounts of Chavez, however the company continues to ignore their requests.

Thailand

On Thursday, an American blogger was sentenced to two and a half years in a Thai prison for translating and publishing excerpts of a banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on his blog under charges of lèse-majesté. Gordon, a Thai-born U.S. citizen, initially denied the charges but plead guilty in October in order to lessen the sentence from five years.  Reporters Without Borders reacted to the news:

We are witnessing a game of one-upmanship in the penalties imposed on Thai netizens. Since it took office, the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has shown itself to be worse than its predecessor. In just four months, the number of allegations, prosecutions and convictions on lèse-majesté grounds is higher than for the whole of last year…The government must put an end to this repressive policy and repeal the lèse-majesté law and the Computer Crime Act, two anti-freedom pieces of legislation.

The U.S. government mildly acknowledged the news, stating that it was merely “troubled” by the incident, and it is currently not known whether the State Department has taken any action on his behalf.

EFF stands with Reporters Without Borders in condemning the arrest of bloggers, activists, and journalists in Thailand.

South Korea

The Communications Standards Commission of South Korea last Wednesday launched a campaign to monitor “illicit content” on social networking sites. An eight-member team will be charged with the task of examining sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and smartphone applications for any “’harmful or illegal’ content relating to pornography, gambling, drug abuse, false information, and defamation.”

Officials claim that they enacted this program mainly in order to limit North Korean propaganda as part of a wider crackdown on nationalist sympathies for the neighboring state. Critics of the program however, argue that it is just a cover for their true motivation of silencing voices dissident to the government. "The commission must immediately stop its anachronistic act restricting freedom of expression," six civic groups said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

EFF condemns such overt attacks on online free expression, especially in light of South Korea's history of legalizing and institutionalizing censorship in the name of upholding copyright.


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