Internet censorship in Asia

Reuters has a write-up looking at how Asian nations are realising that they cannot control the internet (here).

The article mentions a few obvious characters like China and Singapore with Malaysia, India and South Korea all mentioned too. There is no coverage of Thailand – where use of lese majeste laws is regressing, according to Council of Foreign Relations -, Vietnam – where Facebook is officially blocked, though access remains possible – or other neighbours like Indonesia and the Philippines.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting read, and my pick of excerpts are below:

Comments from Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch:

Governments are committing quite a bit of resources and time to block websites and I think it’s a panic reaction. They have some temporary, immediate discouraging effect but over the longer term, they won’t be effective because people will still find a way to get the news they want to hear.

Once people have been exposed to the Internet and see the power of getting information free to your computer, it’s a very addictive feeling of empowerment.

China:

Even China, which strongly regulates the Internet and is grappling with how to deal with the extremely popular microblogs read by hundreds of millions of its people, is highly unlikely to block them completely.

This is true to a point. However the government has taken recent steps to restrict the freedom of Sina Weibo, while many services remain conscious that there are limits of freedom for discussions and topics.

This article from Reuters – published today – delves into more details illustrating how uneasy the Chinese government is with the growth of microblogs, which are thought to have almost 200 million users today in China.

India:

In India, authorities were taken aback last month when an anti-corruption campaign multiplied on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites and drew tens of thousands of people to protest sites.

Korea:

South Korea heavily filters online content involving North Korea, with which it is still technically at war. But its citizens continue to lobby the government for more access.

Singapore:

Singapore blocks a symbolic list of 100 mostly pornographic sites but does not to bar any site for political content. And despite strict controls on open political discussion, it allowed freewheeling criticism of government policies in the run-up to general elections this year.

I would be cautious claiming that criticism was accepted, when tolerated is perhaps a more apt phrase.

It seems that the government hugely underestimated the role of the internet and social media in the run up to the election. Incumbent candidates began, almost desperately, making use of it once they realised.

The blogosphere is given some freedoms in Singapore. However, the government reclassified a number of political blogs as media, prior to the election campaign, to regain some control over their content.

Malaysia

Neighboring Malaysia pledged in 1996 not to impose controls on the Internet and was rewarded with investments from foreign technology companies such as Microsoft Corp and Cisco Systems.

The decision led to vibrant online political commentary. Analysts say the government had since quietly considered some form of filters on the debate, but decided against it.

Thailand is perhaps a more complicated topic but it does seem remiss not to mention its examples of internet censorship/freedom of speech issues when they made the news regularly over the past few months.

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