This Week In Internet Censorship: Spotlight on South Korea, Burma Abolishes Pre-Censorship, Malaysian Government to Review Censorship Law
Spotlight on South Korea
South Korea’s renewed crackdown on free speech on the Internet has been in the news lately. In a recent article, the New York Times highlighted the democratic, Internet-savvy country’s “vigilant army of online censors” which it says would not be out of place in China. The report specifically calls out censorship of statements that are seen as critical of the government or disrespectful of the President, including a man whose Twitter account was blocked because he called President Lee Myung-bak a curse word and another who had his account blocked for using a pseudonym that translated to “Lee Myung-bak bastard.” Korea’s censorship board is empowered to act with impunity, deleting content without ever notifying the author. And regulators have only grown more zealous, removing more than 53,000 Internet posts in 2011, up from 15,000 in 2008.
The report also describes Korea’s criminal defamation law as a key tool in stifling online dissent. United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank LaRue described his concerns in a 2011 report, saying “Many criminal defamation suits are brought for statements that are true and are in the public interest.”
EFF has long been troubled by the rising tide of Internet censorship in South Korea. This Week In Internet Censorship has often featured South Korean as a bad actor, and we are glad to see the news media catching on.
Burmese Government Abolishes Pre-Censorship, Still Has Plenty of Censorship Left Over
This week, the Burmese government announced to the editors of weekly journals that they would no longer be required to submit their articles to the state censorship board before publication. While this concession might count as a small step towards media freedom in the country whose military junta has recently eased its grip on power, media censorship is still very much alive in Burma, on the Internet and elsewhere.
The censorship board will continue operations, monitoring the news in all its forms, and the other regulatory frameworks remain in place. Key to the suppression of freedom of expression on the Internet is the 2004 Electronic Transactions Act, which makes it “unlawful to use electronic transactions technology to send or receive information relating to state security.” In 2008, closed courts used this law to deliver prison sentences to dissident bloggers and activists, including prominent blogger Nay Phone Blatt, who received a sentence totaling 20 years. The OpenNet Initiative reports that “the Electronic Transactions Law also constituted part of the 59-year sentence handed to Maung Thura, comedian, film director, and blogger, who was convicted for circulating his footage of relief work after Cyclone Nargis on DVD and the Internet, as well for criticizing government aid efforts in interviews with overseas media.”
EFF joins the Committee to Protect Journalists in calling for the abolition of the censorship board as a first step towards meaningful media reform in Burma. There is still a long way to go.
Malaysian Government Vows to Review Internet Censorship Law in Response to Blackout Protest
On August 14th, thousands of Malaysians participated in a protest inspired by last year’s blackout campaign against SOPA/PIPA. The threat to Internet freedom that had Malaysians blacking out their website to express their opposition was a recent amendment to the Evidence Act 1950, known as S114A, which they say poses a grave threat to freedom of expression on the Internet.
S114A, titled “Presumption of Fact in Publication”, holds (1) those who own, administrate, or edit websites open to public contributors, such as online forums or blogs; (2) those who provide webhosting services or Internet access; and (3) those who own the computer or mobile device used to publish content online, will be accountable for content published through their services, on their sites, or ‘in their name'. Furthermore, those alleged to have posted illicit or defamatory content are assumed to be guilty until proven innocent, turning the ‘innocent until proven guilty' logic of judicial due process on its head.
The protest prompted Malaysian Prime Minister Mohd Najib Tun Razak to tweet:
I have asked Cabinet to discuss section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950. Whatever we do we must put people first .
Gerakan Deputy President Dato’ Chang Ko Youn has also announced that he supports the government’s move to review S114A, though he also appeared to urge self-censorship, stating that he “also hopes that the netizens will be more self-restraint and responsible while publishing comments or sharing information through the cyberspace… Cyberspace is not a wild wild West. One must be responsible for what he or she says and writes.”