November 2016Monthly Archives

China Still Last in Internet Freedom

It will probably come as little surprise to anyone who follows the stories of internet censorship and filtering that once again China has been listed as the least free place to use the internet.    The report was release by an organisation called Freedom House who produce this survey annually and monitor changes to the tables.  There is also a worrying global trend with overall online freedom declining across the world for the sixth year in a row.

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The survey uses a simple assessment which rates the level of freedom online from a 1 (completely free) to a 100 which is the worse possible score.  China again scored an oppressive 88, the same as last year and again higher than any other country in the survey.  These include countries like Syria, Iraq and Cuba who are known to heavily restrict and filter access to the internet.  China  is cementing it’s position as the most oppressive state with regards internet freedom.

There are some digital activists in China, those who are able to protest and who use VPNs like these to speak online.  However they are increasingly coming under pressure from  increasingly draconian legislation and restrictions.  For example one amendment to criminal law has added a 7 year prison term for those deemed to be spreading rumours – these are usually interpreted as anything which criticizes the state.  Other example include members of religious minorities who have been imprisoned for watching religious videos on their mobile phones.

Many thousands of websites are inaccessible from China and the list grows every day.  Any publication which criticizes any aspect of China or it’s policies is likely to be added to the banned list.  recently the Economist and the South China Morning Post (which operates from Hong Kong) were blocked for their political articles.   Most Chinese will routinely use a VPN to access something for an independent media source, it’s common to see BBC World News streaming on laptops and mobile phones although users will tend to obviously try and be discrete for obvious reasons.

Oddly China hosts a World Internet conference, which is full of irony in both practice and it’s speakers.  Last year the President Xi Jinping delivered a speech calling for ‘cyber sovereignty’ where no country holds a monopoly on internet governance and that Chinese internet users are allowed freedom online.  Of course, nobody pointed out that it was his Government who were wholly responsible for their lack of freedom.   There were some concessions though, foreign journalists were allowed access through the Great Chinese Firewall, local journalists though were blocked as normal.

 

The End of NGOs in Egypt?

It’s not been widely reported but there’s a chilling new law being drafted in the Egyptian parliament which would essentially block the existence of any civil groups unless they were controlled by the government.  Human rights organisations are universally condemning the rules which would essentially ban any non-governmental group from operating within Egypt.

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The draft was approved by the State Council on the 28th November and now is awaiting approval from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi which will sign it into the law books.  There is little doubt that the Egyptian state is trying to rush the law into force in order to bypass the public scrutiny of legislation which would simply ban all civil society groups from operating effectively.

Many are hoping al-Sisi will not sign through the legislation, for example it is in conflict with Egypt’s constitution and international law – this though seems unlikely.   The United Nations are concerned that the civil society which often perform essential work in African countries like Egypt will be merely transformed into an ineffectual Government puppet.

It is similar to previous drafts which have been heavily criticised by the international community however many experts suggest that this revision is actually even more far reaching.  For example it raises the maximum prison term for violating this law to five years, which considering many of the legislation’s vague provisions would make it extremely dangerous to be involved in any sort of civil group or charity.

For example individuals could potentially be imprisoned for up to five years if they conducted a public survey or anything which constituted field research without government approval.  Further conditions are equally vague relating to any work of ‘political nature’.  These terms as usual are not defined  by the legislation which means they will be interpreted by the authorities in any way that is convenient to their needs.

The law will put over 45000 local people and over 100 foreign groups working in Egypt at huge risk according to some estimates.   There are already many human rights groups being investigated on various ridiculous allegations of foreign funding, the latest laws would make running any sort of human rights groups in Egypt almost impossible and a huge risk to those involved.

It is already extremely difficult and dangerous to operate any of these groups as there are a myriad of laws that the Egyptian state can ‘utilise’ to target organisations it disapproves of.  There are also extensive internet surveillance and content filters in use to block access and monitor internet connections.  It is possible to bypass these using VPNs and technical fixes like using a US DNS server instead of an Egyptian one but there is still a risk.

Since al-Sisi led the military coup which overthrew the country’s first democratically elected president many thousands have been prosecuted for any opposition to the state whether peaceful or not.   This includes any one who have demonstrated in any minor way including such things like joking or criticizing on social media or online.  There are a myriad of activities protected under the Egyptian constitution which can easily be adapted by the authorities to prosecute and imprison anyone deemed to be a threat.    If the bill does pass then the future of civil and humanitarian groups in Egypt seems to be threatened.

John Williams

The Anonymous Torrent