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Internet freedom
and development.
A qualitative study of internet freedom and Sweden’s global
importance with respect to i...
Internet freedom
and development.
A qualıtatıve study of ınternet freedom
and Sweden’s global ımportance wıth
respect to ı...
2

Table of contents.
The report in brief	

3

Foreword	4
Internet freedom and development –
an issue that concerns Sweden...
3

The report ın brıef.
The present study examines internet freedom and development in six selected countries: Egypt, Indi...
4

Foreword.
Sweden’s importance at international level is contingent on
three factors:

development. This, combined with ...
5

Internet freedom and development
– an ıssue of concern to Sweden.
In just a few decades, the internet has completely ch...
6

Aıms & methodology.
Aims
This study is intended to provide a description of internet
freedom in a selection of countrie...
7

People interviewed

Egypt

Pakistan

Nadine Sherif, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies,
www.cihrs.org

Murtaza Za...
8

Summary.
The impact of the internet
The number of internet users around the world is growing
rapidly. According to stat...
9

to filter and monitor the internet are collectively known as
the Great Firewall of China.
China jails more people invol...
10

study, was Jillian York, Director of International Freedom
of Expression. She ranked the six countries in the study, o...
Summary

In the respondents’ view, India’s laws are regrettable from
the standpoints of internet freedom and legal securit...
12

Otherwise, there is popular support in the country for censo­r­­
ing web content considered blasphemous, anti-Islamic,...
Summary

dom and the relationship between freedom in the analogue
world and the digital sphere.
The countries all have lar...
14

$ 48,112

Figure 2. General comparison of the countries in the study.

India
Number of inhabitants:
millions – 1,200

...
Summary

15

Sweden’s
image
according to
the NBI, 2011

Internet freedom
according to
Freedom House,
2012

Internet freedo...
16

Figure 3. The view of freedom of expression in the countries studied according to opinion polls.
It is important to ha...
17

The ınternet as a channel
of ınfluence.
New phenomenon with great potential

What topics can be discussed

The number ...
18

Human rights are a highly sensitive topic of discussion in
China, since this is indirectly regarded as criticism of th...
166

Figure 5. Use of social media and mobile phones in the countries studied.
Number of people signed up on
Facebook, 201...
20

[Potatoes and eggs], which joked about the country’s leading politicians and generals (www.vimeo.com/30691910).
In Egy...
21

Vıews of Sweden and ınternet
freedom.
An unfamiliar role model
Sweden is widely recognised for its high degree of free...
22

ship with Russia which the other Nordic countries do not
have. Finland is more involved with Russia than Sweden.
Train...
23

The countrıes’ needs and
Sweden’s ımportance.
Encouraging increased internet use
The respondents had many suggestions ...
24

for computers in China, people can get access if it looks as if
they are surfing on a computer in another country.

su...
The countries’ needs and Sweden’s
importance

25

Information in other languages

Exploiting existing projects

The Russia...
26

Conclusıons and
recommendatıons.
The purpose of this study is to examine the state of internet
freedom in six selected...
27

every country in the study except for India. However, there
are growing threats of future restrictions to internet fre...
28

Appendıx.
Lınks to organısatıons and ındıvıduals that
monıtor ınternet freedom ın dıfferent parts
of the world.

.
.
....
29

EGYPT:
“In the conservatıve Egyptıan mınd, freedom
ıs not necessarıly seen as somethıng good.”
In Egypt, the internet ...
30

The respondents believe that the internet has helped boost
freedom of expression in Egypt, in the sense that there is
...
Appendix

31

“As a journalist, I was very enthusiastic when we got access
to information about the connections between th...
32

INDIA:
“Easıer to censor onlıne than offlıne.”

India is usually described as the world’s largest democracy.
Though pu...
Appendix

instrument to defuse social and religious conflicts. The government, with the support of large sections of India...
34

Summary for India

.

Number of mobile phone subscriptions: About 894 million (ITU, 2011)

	 India has introduced laws...
Appendix

35

CHINA:
“We feel lıke we are constantly beıng
monıtored.”

China is the country with the most advanced system...
Si internet freedom a4_web
Si internet freedom a4_web
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  1. 1. Internet freedom and development. A qualitative study of internet freedom and Sweden’s global importance with respect to internet freedom issues.
  2. 2. Internet freedom and development. A qualıtatıve study of ınternet freedom and Sweden’s global ımportance wıth respect to ınternet freedom ıssues. The Swedish Institute & United Minds, 2013
  3. 3. 2 Table of contents. The report in brief 3 Foreword 4 Internet freedom and development – an issue that concerns Sweden 5 Aims & methodology 6 Aims Definition of topic Methodology Selection of countries Selection of respondents and the conduct of interviews People interviewed 6 6 6 6 6 7 Summary 8 The impact of the internet 8 Internet freedom in different countries – an overview of knowledge 8 OpenNet Initiative – internet filtering in selected countries 9 The countries studied 10 Egypt 10 India 10 China 11 Pakistan 11 Russia 12 US 12 Country comparison 12 The view of internet censorship 13 The internet as a channel of influence 17 New phenomenon with great potential 17 What topics can be discussed 17 What advocacy work is being carried out today 18 The view of Sweden and internet freedom 21 21 21 21 22 22 An unknown role model Not as polarising as the US Finland a role model for Russia Sweden and WikiLeaks Sweden a positive surprise The countries’ needs and Sweden’s importance 23 Encouraging increased internet use Training internet users, journalists and activists Countering censorship and the blocking of websites Protecting individuals and countering surveillance Legal assistance Exchanges with internet activists Information in other languages Encouraging international dialogue Taking advantage of existing projects Raising the profile of Sweden and the Nordic countries 23 Conclusions and recommendations 26 26 26 26 27 Our involvement is desired Sweden can raise its profile The internet is a superior channel Working together makes us stronger 23 23 24 24 24 25 25 25 25 Appendix 28 Links to organisations and individuals that monitor internet freedom in different parts of the world Egypt India China Pakistan Russia US 28 29 32 35 38 41 44
  4. 4. 3 The report ın brıef. The present study examines internet freedom and development in six selected countries: Egypt, India, China, Pakistan, Russia and the US. These countries were chosen because they have numerous internet users and because in some respects they set precedents in terms of restricting online privacy and freedom of expression. The study is based on a research review of existing reports on internet freedom and on in-depth interviews with selected experts and internet activists in the six countries concerned. The internet has helped enhance freedom of expression by extending access to information and significantly widening the scope for citizens to express their views. At the same time, however, there is a tendency for regimes to attempt to gain control of this open arena for the dissemination of information and the exchange of ideas – which the internet partly represents – through censorship, surveillance, r ­ estrictive laws, filtering and other methods. Sweden has a strong tradition of freedom of expression and transparency and is also one of the most mature countries in the world with respect to information and communication technology (ICT). Internet freedom is a priority issue in Swedish foreign policy. However, this study indicates that Sweden’s position on issues regarding internet freedom and development is neither widely known nor recognised. It is clear that Sweden needs to raise its profile and intensify its strategic communication efforts around these issues. The assistance the respondents in the study are seeking includes training for internet users and constructive examples illustrating the advantages of a free, uncensored internet. A further measure would be the provision of technical equipment able to reduce the risk of surveillance and protect the identity of internet users. The internet is an important means of influence in all the countries studied. According to the respondents, it can, with some exceptions, be used to discuss issues involving human rights, development and the fight against poverty, innovation and security. The study provides a basis for the further development of the Swedish Institute’s activities as well as for communicating Swedish efforts around issues involving internet freedom and security. Sweden’s influence can be exercised via a number of channels. Among the Swedish Institute’s major – and vital – tasks is to facilitate this and encourage stakeholder collaboration.
  5. 5. 4 Foreword. Sweden’s importance at international level is contingent on three factors: development. This, combined with Sweden’s long-standing tradition of freedom of expression, provides a fitting foundation for active international engagement in these issues. First: The world’s needs. What are the critical issues? Second: Our comparative advantages. In what areas can we provide know-how? Third: A common language. Is there a shared view of the challenges and opportunities? Where Sweden’s experience matches the needs of the world and common ground is found in dialogue, conditions are conducive to development both in Sweden and in other countries. Internet freedom and development incorporate all three factors. Sweden has been a pioneer in creating conditions for a connected country thanks to a well-developed infrastructure and nationwide investment in digitalisation. Access to high-speed internet in practically all parts of the country and for all segments of the population has ensured high figures for internet use, transparency and innovation by international standards. Sweden thus enjoys extensive experience in terms of the scope and importance of the internet in public discourse, innovation and social and economic Internet freedom ranks high on the world’s agenda. Recent years have shown the dynamic potential of digital communication. And with a young generation actively establishing contacts globally, bridging national borders and cultural differences, we are witnessing the creation of a shared view of challenges and opportunities – a new, common dialogue. For the Swedish Institute (SI), internet freedom and digital communication clearly form part of the broad narrative of our country. Understanding and working on these issues is an important element in developing lasting relations built on trust with future opinion formers and decision-makers in developing countries and emerging economies. Finally, it is a way for individuals and institutions in our partner countries to develop competence, know-how and cooperation. The purpose of this study, undertaken in collaboration with United Minds at the request of the SI, is to enhance and disseminate knowledge of these issues and lay the groundwork for developing activities, both by SI employees and other Swedes engaged in this area. The study raises a number of potential issues, on which the SI looks forward to continued collaboration with Sweden’s Missions Abroad, other public sector bodies, civil society and the business community. Annika Rembe, Director-General, Swedish Institute
  6. 6. 5 Internet freedom and development – an ıssue of concern to Sweden. In just a few decades, the internet has completely changed the world. It has dramatically increased people’s opportunities to obtain knowledge, voice opinions, and exchange ideas – including across national borders – all at a hitherto unprecedented speed. The effect has been to confer potential political power on anyone with internet access. The shifts in power that have taken place across the globe as a result of increased internet access are a pivotal issue for organisations and individuals that work to bring about change in government, business and civil society. It may seem obvious enough to us that freedom of expression is desirable and indeed essential in a democratic society and that no further justification is needed. Testing differing views against one another is beneficial to the development of society. Free access to information and the free exchange of views promote innovation and democratic development. But for rulers in some countries, the free arena for the exchange of ideas that internet freedom allows poses a growing threat. Serious efforts are therefore being made to restrict internet freedom. This is an alarming development, especially in view of the increasing difficulty in distinguishing between ‘digital’ and ‘analogue’ spheres. This study examines six countries from the perspective of internet freedom, to what extent they allow the free flow of information and ideas online and respect user privacy. The countries were chosen in part because they are large and strategically important for internet freedom. In some respects, they can set trends for other countries in terms of restricting privacy and freedom of expression online. There are a number of organisations and individuals that seek to promote internet freedom in the countries studied. The conditions for promoting internet freedom in these countries vary, depending on the status of civil society and the independence of the business community vis-à-vis the state. In most cases, however, authorities attempt to control and curtail freedom of expression through restrictive laws and other methods. Internet freedom and development are a priority issue in Swedish foreign, development and trade policy. This is natural given Sweden’s strong tradition of transparency, freedom of expression and innovation, some of the cornerstones of what we call the Swedish social model. Today the internet is a vital tool in virtually all work involving international relations and policy. This is particularly true of priority issues for Sweden, such as human rights, development, the fight against poverty, innovation and security. One aim of this report is to facilitate a greater understanding of Sweden’s importance globally to internet freedom issues. Some key findings from our work are that Sweden’s involvement is widely desired and that we as a country need to raise our profile. People who are fighting for internet freedom and development around the world need to know that they have our support. Javeria Rizvi Kabani (SI) Jonas Hellman (United Minds)
  7. 7. 6 Aıms & methodology. Aims This study is intended to provide a description of internet freedom in a selection of countries and of the conditions necessary to enhance this freedom. It identifies needs in the context of internet freedom in the six countries concerned and discusses Sweden’s significance in this regard. The report provides an analytical basis for the development of SI activities and efforts to enhance Sweden’s image abroad, with particular focus on human rights, development and the fight against poverty, innovation and security. Definition Internet freedom is defined as the free flow of information and ideas online – freedom of expression and the absence of censorship, and respect for the privacy of individuals. Methodology The study is based on a research review of existing reports on internet freedom, plus qualitative, in-depth interviews with people with extensive knowledge about internet freedom in the selected countries. Selection of countries The six countries chosen for this study are all relevant from the perspective of internet freedom. The three countries in the world with the most internet users overall are China, the US and India. Russia also has a relatively large internet population. Egypt and Pakistan are both sizeable countries, where issues involving internet freedoms have recently been the subject of extensive discussion. Five of the six countries chosen are among those accorded geographic priority by the Swedish Foreign Ministry as part of its promotion of Sweden. Pakistan, the only exception, is nonetheless interesting from the standpoint of internet freedom. Although the US is not comparable to the other countries in this regard, it has been included as a reference country since it is often mentioned in discussions of issues involving freedom of expression online. Selection of respondents and conduct of interviews Three experts were chosen as respondents from each of the priority countries. The aim in selecting the interviewees was to ensure an accurate, broad, up-to-date picture of internet freedom in the countries concerned. A total of 18 qualitative interviews were conducted on Skype in the period February-April 2013. These semi-structured interviews were based on a number of prepared questions. As the respondents were encouraged to give open-ended answers, these varied in length, depending on their interest and level of knowledge. On average, each interview lasted 60 minutes. In some cases, these were later supplemented with additional questions in order to clear up any uncertainties and provide a more complete picture. Five of the people interviewed were bloggers and internet activists, five worked for organisations concerned with internet freedom, three were employed in other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), two were academics, two were journalists and one was an IT entrepreneur. The questions fell into the following general areas: 1) the internet and social development, 2) the internet and privacy, 3) the internet and freedom of expression, 4) the impact of the work of NGOs, and 5) Sweden and internet freedom. In China, all the respondents chose to remain anonymous so that they could speak freely. One of the Russian interviewees also chose to remain anonymous for the same reason. All the interviews were conducted in English.
  8. 8. 7 People interviewed Egypt Pakistan Nadine Sherif, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, www.cihrs.org Murtaza Zaidi, IT entrepreneur, www.cybervision.com.pk Nasry Esmat, journalist, www.twitter.com/nasry Shahzad Ahmad, Bytes for All, www.content.bytesforall.pk Sana Saleem, blogger and internet freedom activist, www.sanasaleem.com Ramy Raoof, blogger and activist, ebfhr.blogspot.com Russia US Oksana Chelysheva, journalist and activist, www.mirror_wolfe.livejournal.com Alan Rosenblatt, Internet Advocacy Roundtable, www.internetadvocacycenter.com/education/roundtable.html Ilya Stechkin, Moscow State University, www.moscowstate.academia.edu/IlyaStechkin Josh Levy, Free Press, www.freepress.net Anonymous, NGO Jillian York, Electronic Frontier Foundation, www.eff.org China India Anonymous, NGO Pranesh Prakash, Centre for Internet & Society, www.cis-india.org Anonymous, blogger Anonymous, researcher Anja Kovacs, Internet Democracy Project and blogger, www.internetdemocracy.in, www.twitter.com/anjakovacs Alok Dixit, Save Your Voice, activist, www.saveyourvoice.in
  9. 9. 8 Summary. The impact of the internet The number of internet users around the world is growing rapidly. According to statistics produced by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), internet users now make up almost a third of the global population. The rise in the number of users is largely taking place in non-Western countries. China is the country with the highest number of users overall, followed by the US and India. Information and communication technology (ICT) is a collective term for the opportunities created by advances in data technology and telecommunication. The increase in internet use is a result of ICT development, and growing numbers of people now have internet access via their mobile phones. As is well known, the internet has greatly expanded access to information and made it easier for people to communicate with one another. This not only involves text messages but also, increasingly, images, music and videos. The internet has immense potential impact, not merely on social and economic development but also in the political sphere. Transparency and freedom of expression are growing; as a result old power structures are being challenged and new ones are coming into being. During the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’, the internet helped topple unpopular regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.1 In Egypt the Mubarak regime tried to shut down the internet to prevent protests from spreading. This authoritarian strategy did not work. It is clear that the internet can contribute to advances in democracy and greater freedom of expression, which explains why today ICT is regarded as a strategic tool in Swedish development cooperation. Gaining an overview of internet freedom in different countries, in addition to an understanding of the extent to which the internet can be used as a tool to influence issues is thus a priority for Sweden. However, traditional media still play a crucial role in advocacy work in the spheres of information and opinion formation. 1 Philip N Howard m fl (2011), Opening Closed Regimes. What was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?, Project on Information Technology and Political Islam, University of Washington Internet freedom in different countries – a knowledge overview A growing number of organisations and individuals actively monitor internet freedom in different countries. Most of these are based in the US, but their number elsewhere is on the increase. This monitoring involves a range of approaches. Some actors focus on human rights and view the internet as an important instrument for freedom of expression. One of the most well-established organisations using this approach is Freedom House, headquartered outside Boston in the US. For the past two years, Freedom House has published detailed reports on ‘freedom on the net’, classifying different countries into three broad categories: Free, Partly Free or Not Free. The 2012 report noted that many countries have taken measures to restrict internet freedom. The methods of control used have become increasingly sophisticated and harder to detect. Unfortunately, there are also many examples of politically motivated internet surveillance, brutal attacks intended to silence bloggers and activists, proactive manipulation of web content and the introduction of restrictive laws regulating freedom of expression online. According to Freedom House, China is a trendsetter in terms of attempting to control the internet. A growing number of countries are following in China’s footsteps and trying to imitate the apparently successful methods used by the Chinese state. The NGO Reporters Without Borders publishes an annual overview of attempts by countries to control the internet. In its 2013 special edition on surveillance, five countries were identified as ‘state enemies’ of the internet: Bahrain, Iran, China, Syria and Vietnam. These five were highlighted by the organisation because they are involved in “active, intrusive surveillance of news providers, resulting in grave violations of freedom of information and human rights”. Regarding China, Reporters Without Borders writes that the Chinese Communist Party runs “one of the biggest digital empires, if not the biggest”. In China, all ICT infrastructure is controlled by the Chinese state, and anyone wanting an internet connection has to rent broadband access from a stateowned company. The tools put in place by the Chinese state
  10. 10. 9 to filter and monitor the internet are collectively known as the Great Firewall of China. China jails more people involved in news and information than any other country. In early 2103, 30 journalists and 69 internet activists in China were in prison, according to the organisation. OpenNet Initiative – internet filtering in selected countrie Some organisations have adopted a more technical approach and monitor the types of information different countries filter out online, or the technical tools they use to carry out censorship and surveillance. Among these is the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), whose activities include identifying countries where social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are completely or partially blocked. ONI’s monitoring shows, among other things, that four of the countries examined in this study – China, Pakistan, India and Russia – filter the internet to control some information. However, there are significant degrees of variation among countries, as shown in Figure 1. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an organisation headquartered in San Francisco in the US, adopts a more legalistic approach. EFF uses law as an instrument to defend an open, free internet. Among the respondents interviewed by United Minds in order to gather data for this Figure 1. Filtering of information online in the countries investigated according to ONI (2012). Political issues Social issues Conflict/security Internet tools, e.g. social media Egypt India 1) China 2) Pakistan Russia US 1) 2) Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. blocked YouTube periodically blocked No evidence of filtering Selective filtering Substantial filtering
  11. 11. 10 study, was Jillian York, Director of International Freedom of Expression. She ranked the six countries in the study, on the basis of restrictions on internet freedom, as follows: 1) China, 2) Pakistan, 3) India, 4) Russia, 5) Egypt, 6) the US. A good deal is known about the level of internet freedom in different countries and the methods authorities use to restrict the spread of information online. Although methods of curtailing freedom online are always evolving, closer monitoring of countries attempting to restrict internet freedom is also taking place. Although attention is focused particularly on countries with the greatest restrictions on internet freedom – especially China – there is detailed information available on most countries in terms of internet use and what restrictions are involved. A more extensive list of organisations and individuals engaged in monitoring internet freedom in different countries may be found in the Appendix. This report’s main contributions to existing research work are to provide an understanding of how the countries concerned view internet freedom, the role of the rest of the world in internet freedom issues, what Sweden can do to encourage advances, and in what issues the internet serves as a channel of influence in the various countries. The countries studied Six countries, all relevant from the standpoint of internet freedom, were studied. Interviews were conducted with three respondents from each country, selected on the basis of their in-depth knowledge of internet freedom and its development in their respective country. More detailed findings regarding the countries are available through the Swedish Institute. Below is a brief summary of the state of affairs with regard to internet freedom in the countries examined. Egypt Up until January 2011, Egypt only blocked a few websites. Expanding the ICT infrastructure had been part of the Mubarak regime’s strategy to generate growth and create new jobs. According to Freedom House (2012), the regime spied on the opposition and spread propaganda online, but there was no extensive internet censorship. The role the internet played in the fall of the Mubarak regime led to a sharp increase in interest in social media. “Before the revolution, the security forces used to monitor what activists did online. What’s stopping them today is that they don’t have enough capacity; they are busy with other problems.” Nasry Esmat, Egypt Over ten million Facebook accounts were registered in Egypt in late 2011, placing it among the top twenty countries with the largest number of Facebook users. The internet is an increasingly important channel for news in Egypt, and 87 per cent of the population regard it as important to have a free internet with no censorship (Pew Research Center, 2012). After the revolution, the security forces kept existing surveillance equipment in place and continued to monitor people they suspected. This led to more activists and bloggers being threatened, assaulted and put on trial in 2011 and 2012 for allegedly disturbing the peace. The journalist Nasry Esmat stated that the security forces before the revolution usually monitored what activists did online. “What’s stopping them today is that they don’t have enough capacity; they are busy with other problems.” Blogger and activist Ramy Raoof: “The government likes to gather all kinds of information it can collect, whether there is or isn’t reason. But they don’t exercise censorship in the sense that they block websites and make them inaccessible – we haven’t seen that.” India India is the largest democracy in the world. Though public discourse is lively in many respects, this does not preclude those governing the country from trying to restrict freedom of expression online, and laws have been introduced to allow arbitrary internet censorship. India is the only country in the study where laws make it easier to practise censorship online than in traditional media.
  12. 12. Summary In the respondents’ view, India’s laws are regrettable from the standpoints of internet freedom and legal security. According to Jillian York of EEC, this, combined with other attempts to restrict freedom of expression, means that internet freedom is in a weaker state in India than in countries like Russia and Egypt. “Censorship has been used as an instrument against social and religious conflicts. Freedom of expression is restricted for some groups by prohibiting them from speaking ill of one another.” Anja Kovacs, India A number of organisations in India are working to expand online freedom of expression. Despite a general belief in India that freedom of expression is desirable, people are traditionally more accepting of censorship than in the West. Censorship is used in part as an instrument to defuse religious and social conflicts. However, the people United Minds interviewed in India do not agree that restrictions on freedom of expression are warranted. China China is the country with the most advanced system for internet censorship and surveillance. Despite over 500 million internet users – more than any other country – the regime has succeeded in maintaining strict control over the flow of information. In 2013, Reporters Without Borders identified China as a ‘state enemy of the internet’, based on the online surveillance carried out by the state. In practice, online freedom of expression in China is very restricted, especially on political issues. One of the people United Minds interviewed in China – a blogger – reported that he was visited ten times by the police for something he had written online. “They order you to delete what you have written, and if you don’t do it, they’ll shut down your website. They can threaten you by saying your family will be harmed or that you’ll lose your job.” Anonymous, China Self-censorship is an important factor in the system. The risk of sanction deters people from discussing sensitive is- 11 sues. The interviewees nevertheless maintain that the surveillance system is not comprehensive. It is not possible in practice to monitor everything said online. On the whole, the internet has contributed to greater freedom of expression in China as the limits to what people are permitted to say are constantly stretched. Access to information has increased dramatically, and 93 per cent of Chinese consider that the authorities have an obligation to guarantee freedom of expression online (Internet Society, 2012). According to the respondents, Chinese people are used to censorship; most are not very concerned about what they are permitted to say. They care more about what music they can listen to, what films they are allowed to see and what products they can buy. The interviewees believe there is a greater likelihood of dissatisfaction being expressed in these areas than of protests over their not being allowed to criticise the regime. Pakistan Pakistan is not a stable democracy and respect for freedom of expression is limited. In recent years, the Pakistani authorities have employed increasingly drastic methods to control the flow of information via mobile phones and other new technologies. According to Freedom House, internet freedom has deteriorated alarmingly since 2011. “Those holding power in Pakistan say they are in favour of freedom online – with the exceptions of pornography and blasphemy. But what is blasphemy – who decides? Blasphemy is often used as a pretence to exercise censorship.” Sana Saleem, Pakistan According to Sana Saleem, a writer and internet activist, this development is connected in part to the on-going conflict in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. On several occasions, the authorities have completely shut down mobile traffic in Baluchistan in order to cut off communication with the outside world. The Pakistani government has plans to install advanced technology to create a national internet firewall on the Chinese model. The proposal has drawn intense criticism, which has so far deterred its implementation.
  13. 13. 12 Otherwise, there is popular support in the country for censo­r­­ ing web content considered blasphemous, anti-Islamic, pornographic or regarded as a threat to the country’s security. Only 39 per cent of the Pakistani population think the internet should be free from state censorship (Pew Research Center, 2012). The penalties for saying something illegal can be draconian. Blasphemy carries the death penalty, and there are instances of its application to citizens charged with blaspheming Islam in a text message. Russia In Russia today, the internet is the most important source of news, especially for younger people. One contributing factor is that other media are censored and the internet is essentially the only option for people who want to access independent information. The Russian government is attempting to find legislative means to step up internet control in order to eliminate uncomfortable criticism. Legislation has been proposed that would allow websites to be shut down without a court order. Such legislation is officially intended to protect children against extremism and other aggressive web content. But critics argue that this is simply a pretence, “The level of censorship in Russia is really high. All newspapers are more or less censored, making the internet the only news channel.” Oksana Chelysheva, Russia Those monitoring developments in Russia think internet freedom there has also declined in recent years. The number of websites blacklisted has risen and there are cases of bloggers running into trouble, often in connection with revelations of corruption or other abuses of power. “If you criticize powerful people, anything can happen, especially if you interfere with their business interests,” said Ilya Stechkin of Moscow State University. Despite Russia’s weak democratic tradition, support for freedom of expression is basically strong, and 70 per cent are opposed to state censorship of the internet (Pew Research Center, 2012). US Although the US cannot really be compared to the five other nations examined by United Minds in this study, it is included as a reference country. The US has expressed ambitions in the area of internet freedom, and the country’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has delivered a series of speeches on what can be done to increase internet freedom around the world. Many of the people interviewed for this study (including those outside the US) refer to Hillary Clinton’s speeches on internet freedom. They argue that she – and thus Americans – were the first to coin the expression ‘internet freedom’. “Sweden has a good government policy to make affordable and open internet accessible to everyone.” Josh Levy, US The Americans interviewed argued that the internet in the US is free. “What do get censored on the internet in the US are basically two things – child pornography and things related to terrorism,” said Josh Levy of Free Press. The US government does not generally prosecute individuals for content they publish online if it does not involve child pornography or copyright infringement. There are examples of police in the US monitoring websites in order to track people suspected of involvement in certain activities. One example is police in New York spying on Muslim students in the US for a number of years by monitoring blogs, websites and chat forums aimed specifically at this target group. Some 78 per cent of people in the US have internet access, much higher than in the five other countries studied, but lower than in IT mature countries in Europe such as Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands. Country comparison As indicated in the overview, the six countries differ in a number of respects. Figure 2 below provides a general comparison of attributes such as internet access, internet free-
  14. 14. Summary dom and the relationship between freedom in the analogue world and the digital sphere. The countries all have large populations; even where the level of internet access is low, the absolute number of internet users is high. Pakistan, with 184 million inhabitants, is the sixth largest country in the world in population terms. Even at its current low level of internet access (nine per cent) this amounts to over 15 million internet users. Moreover, in countries with a young population – such as Pakistan – conditions favour a rapid rise in the number of internet users. With 80 million inhabitants, Egypt is the smallest country in the study. However, it is still the third largest country in Africa, after Nigeria and Ethiopia. Despite its low GDP per capita, Egypt enjoys a comparatively high level of internet access – 39 per cent. The key part played by the internet in the events leading up to the overthrow of the Mubarak government gave it considerable status and a prominent position as a news channel. In every country in the study except the US, the internet still reaches less than half the population. However, it has a considerably broader reach among more highly educated people and city dwellers. Internet access is significantly higher in Russia, Egypt and China than in India and Pakistan. China is the only one-party state in the study. Political elections in which different parties compete for power are held in all the other countries. The US and India are stable democracies, whereas Russia, Egypt and Pakistan have weaker traditions in that respect. Familiarity with Sweden in the countries studied is not particularly great, due in part to geographical distance. In Russia – with the highest degree of familiarity with Sweden – Sweden ranks 23rd out of 50 comparable countries in the 2011 Nation Brands Index (NBI). The country with the lowest degree of familiarity with Sweden is India, where Sweden ranks 39th out of 50 comparable countries (see figure on page 15). Freedom House has ranked the internet in the six countries as follows: China and Pakistan: Not Free; Egypt, Russia and India: Partly Free; the US: Free. These ratings are in line with the more detailed responses provided by interviewees to the question of how they view internet freedom in their own countries. 13 The view in most of these countries is that there is greater freedom online than offline. In some ways, India is the exception, since laws make it easier for authorities to censor the internet relative to other media. In general, however, the internet has facilitated wider access to information and extended the limits of what can be said and what issues can be discussed. There is a clear correlation between the degree of internet freedom in a country and that country’s democratic development, i.e. a correlation between freedom in the digital and analogue world respectively. The least democratic country, China, is also the country where authorities exercise the most stringent internet control. Authoritarian regimes are characterised by their attempts to silence critics, including online critics. However, the fact that a country votes for its leaders in democratic elections is no guarantee of freedom from censorship. India is a democracy but has nonetheless introduced laws allowing arbitrary internet censorship. Although Pakistan ranks second behind China among the countries in this study, with the lowest level of internet freedom, it is more democratic than Egypt and Russia, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2012 Index of Democracy. Views on internet censorship Many of the people interviewed in this study affirm that there is political support in their country for some internet censorship. Their understanding is that those in power use phenomena like child pornography, blasphemy against Islam and persecution of ethnic groups as a pretence to introduce laws restricting freedom of expression online. However, opinion polls show that if the question is asked from a different angle, most people will maintain that freedom of expression online is desirable and important. Only in one of the countries studied – Pakistan – do a majority think it is good to have state internet censorship. As Figure 2 shows, a large majority of inhabitants in four of these countries responded that the internet has improved their lives. This question was not asked in the other two countries, Egypt and Pakistan.
  15. 15. 14 $ 48,112 Figure 2. General comparison of the countries in the study. India Number of inhabitants: millions – 1,200 315 US $ 3,650 GDP GDP 78% 10% China Number of inhabitants: millions – 1,300 184 Pakistan $ 2,745 $ 8,400 9% Per cent of the population with internet access – 38% GDP $ 21,921 143 GDP Russia 49% GDP GDP per inhabitant (PPP), World Bank, 2011, $ Number of inhabitants: millions 80 Egypt $ 6,281 Per cent of the population with internet access (2011, according to ITU),% 39% GDP
  16. 16. Summary 15 Sweden’s image according to the NBI, 2011 Internet freedom according to Freedom House, 2012 Internet freedom according to the people interviewed Relation between freedom in the analogue world and in the digital sphere Egypt 29 Continued surveillance of activists and bloggers Greater freedom online than offline India 39 Laws allow arbitrary internet censorship Less freedom online than offline China 29 Extensive surveillance and internet censorship Greater freedom online than offline Not calculated Risk of increased surveillance and internet censorship – extreme penalty for blasphemy against Islam Greater freedom online than offline Russia 23 Attempts to increase surveillance and internet censorship of critics of regime Greater freedom online than offline US 31 Free – surveillance linked to the war against terrorism Same level of freedom Pakistan Sources: Nation Brands Index (NBI) 2011, an index that annually measures how a large number of individuals evaluate different countries based on aspects such as culture, governance, and economy and business environment. Partly free Free Not free Freedom House, 2012 (see page 8). Countries ranked according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy 2012 #141 – China (3.14) #115 – Egypt (3.95) #117 – Russia (3.92) #105 – Pakistan (4.55) #39 – India (7.30) #19 – US (8.1) Authoritarian regime Full democracy Hybrid regime Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited 2012 Full democracy Authoritarian regime Authoritarian regime Flawed democracy Authoritarian regime
  17. 17. 16 Figure 3. The view of freedom of expression in the countries studied according to opinion polls. It is important to have access to the internet without government censorship (Pew Research 2012) Egypt 87% India China Pakistan Russia 39% 70% US Access to the internet should be a basic human right (Internet Society 2012) Egypt India 88% China 93% Pakistan 88% Russia US 78% My life has improved due to using the internet (Internet Society 2012) Egypt 88% India China 94% % who are of that opinion Pakistan Russia US 85% 77% Question not asked in the country
  18. 18. 17 The ınternet as a channel of ınfluence. New phenomenon with great potential What topics can be discussed The number of internet users is rapidly growing in the countries studied. In five of the countries investigated, access to the internet is still limited to parts of the population. Television is generally the medium that reaches the greatest number of people and has the greatest impact, but it is also the medium subject to the most government control and censorship. In most cases, newspapers and radio are more tightly controlled than the internet. One of the aims of this study was to investigate opportunities to use the internet as a channel of influence in four priority areas: human rights; development and the fight against poverty; innovation; and security. Respondents were asked to what extent it was possible to freely discuss these topics online and whether the internet was a potential channel for opinion formation/influence. A summary of their answers is given in Figure 4. It is important to keep in mind that internet users in countries with restricted online freedom cannot always know exactly when censorship is being or will be applied. These answers are based on the respondents’ identification of sensitive topics. Figure 4. The internet as a channel for opinion formation/influence in different areas. Responses to the question: Is the internet a potential channel for opinion formation/influence in the following areas? Human rights Egypt India China Pakistan Russia US Fight against poverty Innovation Security
  19. 19. 18 Human rights are a highly sensitive topic of discussion in China, since this is indirectly regarded as criticism of the prevailing political system. In the other countries, however, it is possible to discuss human rights issues online. to discuss human rights, though it is easier to discuss social, cultural and economic rights if caution is exercised. Online advocacy activities are usually driven by individuals and journalists rather than organisations. Development and the fight against poverty can also be a sensitive topic in China, since this is primarily a government concern. Whether it is regarded as sensitive, however, depends on how the topic is approached. In India, it is evident that the internet is becoming an ever more powerful means of influence. The December 2012 gang rape in New Delhi attracted considerable attention and drew strong protests. Expressions of protest were posted online using Facebook and WhatsApp, where users replaced their profile images with a black dot symbol.2 Tens of thousands of Indians have signed an online petition protesting the lack of security for women in the country.3 Innovation can be discussed online in every country in the study. There seems to be a general understanding of the internet as a communication channel that promotes innovation and new ways of thinking. In countries such as China and Pakistan, restrictions on freedom of expression give rise to innovation to some extent as bloggers and activists try to get around the censorship. For instance, code words are used to avoid filtering when controversial topics are discussed. In contrast, issues concerning national security and tense relations with other countries are a minefield. In China, it is not possible to bring up the subject of Taiwan or Tibet. In Russia, Chechnya is a highly sensitive topic. In Pakistan, the national security situation is generally tense, and the authorities do not want to attract attention to the situation in the province of Baluchistan. India also has internal conflicts and security issues that may be risky to mention. Although it is unclear exactly how risky it is to discuss security issues in Egypt at present, it seems to be subject to less extensive internet censorship than most of the other countries in the study. In the US, there is surveillance of suspected terrorists, and anyone expressing sympathy with terrorist acts could have problems. Otherwise, people in the US are free to discuss national security issues online. Advocacy work today According to the people United Minds interviewed in China, there are no Chinese organisations currently fighting for greater freedom of expression online. The regime would not tolerate that kind of organisation. It is generally risky Alok Dixit, a net activist in India, has organised a number of online offensives. His most recent action, ‘Stop Acid Attacks’, campaigns against such attacks on women by men who want to punish them (www.stopacidattacks.org). Dixit is living proof that it is possible to engage in advocacy work online, although he and the other people interviewed feel that the channel is immature in the sense that its full potential has not been realised. In Pakistan, an active group of internet activists have fought strenuously against government efforts to develop a national internet firewall. A couple of organisations, of which Bytes for All is the oldest and most influential, are campaigning for freedom of expression online. Shahzad Ahmad, the Country Director of Bytes for All, believes that it is possible to pursue advocacy work online on issues involving human rights, the fight against poverty, personal safety, innovation and women’s rights. For example, a major impact was made by a provocative music video created by the Pakistani rock band Beygairat Brigade [Shameless Brigade]. The video criticised the military’s influence in Pakistan and was quickly blocked by Vimeo, with no reason given (www.vimeo.com/64414932). The group broke through with another video, Alau Anday 2 articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-12-21/ chandigarh/35952817_1_delhi-gangrape-city-student-dot 3 timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/social-media/Delhigang-rape-case-FacebookTwitter-fuels-rally-at-India-Gate/ articleshow/17741529.cms
  20. 20. 166 Figure 5. Use of social media and mobile phones in the countries studied. Number of people signed up on Facebook, 2012, Internet World Stats, millions Number of users of other social media, millions 63 46 45 25 18 12 0.2 8 0.6 Egypt India China 8 1.5 Pakistan Russia US Most important social media according to the people interviewed Number of inhabitants per country, millions 1,300 1,200 Number of mobile phone subscriptions in the country, ITU, 2011, millions 986 894 184 80 83 Egypt India China 256 109 Pakistan 315 290 143 Russia US
  21. 21. 20 [Potatoes and eggs], which joked about the country’s leading politicians and generals (www.vimeo.com/30691910). In Egypt, the internet played a key role in the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. As a result, those governing Egypt today have a complicated relationship with the country’s internet activists. The activists are considered dangerous and have to be treated with caution. The people we interviewed in Egypt all affirm that it is possible to undertake advocacy work online on social issues, as shown by the 2011 revolution. It was not the internet itself that overthrew the Mubarak regime, but rather tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that allowed the protests to spread more quickly and become more large-scale. 4 In Russia, the internet has developed into one of the most important channels for providing news, in part because of the absence of other free media. This makes the internet a natural channel for anyone who seeks to conduct advocacy work on social issues and reach a larger audience. 4 Tim Eaton (2012), Online Activism and Revolution in Egypt: Lessons from Tahir, New Diplomacy Platform According to the people United Minds interviewed in Russia, it is possible to carry out advocacy work on issues concerning human rights, development and the fight against poverty, and innovation. It is also possible to criticise political leaders, despite the considerable risk of being reprimanded. Recently, a mysterious video turned up online in which Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev was criticised by former Russian political leaders in interviews. The video was professionally produced but contained no indication of who posted it. The aim was clearly to damage Medvedev, and indirectly Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. The video angered Putin; at a press conference where he first requested that journalists turn off their cameras, he sharply criticised the filmmakers (www.lifenews.ru/news/112845). The internet tabloid Life News, which published a video clip on its website, was threatened with losing its right to attend Kremlin press conferences.
  22. 22. 21 Vıews of Sweden and ınternet freedom. An unfamiliar role model Sweden is widely recognised for its high degree of freedom of expression online. Although the general level of knowledge about Sweden is low in many of the countries studied, the people interviewed have an image of Sweden as a free, open society. Human rights activist Nadine Sherif in Egypt: “Sweden is generally regarded as a role model for how its citizens are treated. I don’t know about Sweden and internet freedom, but I have never heard anything bad about Sweden.” Shahzad Ahmad of the organisation Bytes for All, in Pakistan: “Scandinavia overall is the best example of civil liberties in practice, especially when it comes to freedom of expression.” The blogger Sana Saleem in Pakistan was more cautious in identifying role models, but she definitely believed Sweden was free compared to other countries: “The models for Pakistan when it comes to freedom of expression are European countries – not the United States in any respect.” One of the Chinese respondents: “I don’t know anything about what the situation is like in Sweden, but I assume it is very free in relative terms.” Another Chinese respondent, who had been to Sweden, was somewhat better informed. She believed that Sweden was a good role model for other countries: “I know that Sweden has a really high profile when it comes to openness and transparency. But if you were to ask typical Chinese people, most would probably think that the US was the best role model. Most Chinese don’t know anything about Sweden, but in my opinion, the US is not the perfect role model.” Not as polarising as the US In Pakistan and Egypt, people have a highly negative view of the US. Most of the interviewees in these countries see it as a problem that freedom of expression is so strongly associated with the US. Blogger Sana Saleem: “Sadly, freedom of expression is seen in Pakistan as a Western notion. We actually avoid that term, instead using terms like ‘free flow of information’ or ‘open access’.” Journalist Nasry Esmat in Egypt: “When people [in Egypt] think about freedom, they usually think about the US. The West in general is associated with freedom, but in the conservative Egyptian mind this is not necessarily seen as something good. Freedom is to some extent connected to moral decay. Islamists equate freedom to gay rights, and that is not seen as something good in Egypt – not something you want to be associated with.” Pranesh Prakash of the Centre for Internet and Society in India is involved internationally and was therefore well informed about which countries were driving issues involving freedom of expression online: “Sweden is definitely on that list, as well as the Netherlands.” He did not know exactly what Sweden’s strengths are when it came to internet freedom, but thought it was a big advantage that Sweden is not as polarising as the US: “If the Americans suggest something, many disapprove just because it comes from them. If Sweden takes up the same proposal, the chances are greater that the debate will be about the proposal itself.” Finland a role model for Russia Somewhat more is known about Sweden in Russia, perhaps because it is geographically closer than the other countries. The Russian interviewees affirmed that the Nordic countries were role models for online freedom of expression. Russian journalist Oksana Chelysheva: “Finland, Sweden, basically all the Scandinavian countries – but not the Baltic States.” However, both she and Ilya Stechkin of Moscow State University consider Finland to be the main model. In their view, Finland has traditionally enjoyed a special relation-
  23. 23. 22 ship with Russia which the other Nordic countries do not have. Finland is more involved with Russia than Sweden. Training courses provided by Finland to Russian journalists are one example. Ilya Stechkin: “Very little in Sweden is translated into Russian. I haven’t come across any Swedish researchers who have written about ICT in Russian. Neither have I dealt with any Swedish players in the Russian educational market or media market.” “As a journalist I was very enthusiastic when we got access to information about the connections between the US Embassy in Cairo and the Mubarak regime. We feel that we have the right to know about this. The trial in Sweden against Julian Assange makes Sweden’s relationship with internet freedom a bit complicated. I understand that the accusations against Assange are about something different, but Sweden is not seen as a country that supports WikiLeaks.” The US respondents all have a positive impression of Sweden and see it as a given that Sweden stands for freedom and openness. Josh Levy of the organisation Free Press in the US: “Sweden has a good government policy to make affordable and open internet accessible to everyone.” Other people interviewed do not make the same connection. Alan Rosenblatt at the Internet Advocacy Roundtable in the US: “Julian Assange is vaguely associated with Sweden, but only vaguely.” But the Americans do not consider Sweden to be actively driving the issue of freedom of expression online. Alan Rosenblatt of the Internet Advocacy Roundtable in the US: “I know a fair amount about Sweden, but I honestly don’t know what Sweden is doing to support internet freedom. If you are doing things, maybe you should promote it more.” Sweden and WikiLeaks Anja Kovacs at the Internet Democracy Project in India applauded the fact that Sweden was actively engaged internationally in freedom of expression issues. “The Stockholm Internet Forum is an excellent initiative,” she said. But Kovacs also added that Sweden, through its actions in other contexts, had helped to undermine its own credibility. Among other things, she referred to the legal proceedings against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the reports that Swedish companies were selling surveillance equipment to dictators: “There are too many murky parts of these stories.” She was supported in this by Nasry Esmat in Egypt, who explained that he loved WikiLeaks: Sweden a positive surprise Most of the people interviewed found it difficult to say anything specific about the situation in Sweden or Sweden’s strengths when it came to freedom of expression or internet freedom. Only some of them had been to Sweden and ventured to say something about differences between European countries. However, many of those who had visited Sweden indicated that they were positively surprised when they realised how free and transparent Sweden was. Nasry Esmat in Egypt admitted that he had previously known nothing about Sweden, but after having taken part in training arranged by the Swedish Institute, he definitely associated Sweden with issues concerning freedom and freedom of expression. One of the Chinese respondents related that Chinese tourists in Sweden discovered that they could go to any website in their hotel room, even those blocked in China: “Many Chinese who travel abroad are curious and want to explore what websites they can access, but most people in China do not know that Sweden is so good at freedom of expression and openness. You should market it more.”
  24. 24. 23 The countrıes’ needs and Sweden’s ımportance. Encouraging increased internet use The respondents had many suggestions about what countries like Sweden could do to promote internet freedom and development in other parts of the world. Many believed that increased internet use itself led to greater freedom of expression, as it was impossible in practice for the authorities to control everything said and published online. Encouraging and facilitating greater access and internet use was thus one way to indirectly help to increase freedom of expression and democratisation. Internet access in a number of the countries studied is still low among large segments of the population. Moreover, many of those with access have poor connections and/or insufficient knowledge to make full use of the internet. It is possible to achieve substantial progress simply by improving access and raising the level of knowledge. One way of doing this is to show the advantages of universal internet access. According to Pranesh Prakash at CIS in India, it is important to emphasise positive examples. One of the respondents in China thought that Sweden should share concrete experiences showing how greater freedom of expression can generate more economic growth. She believed that the Chinese government would be prepared to accept this argument. Training of internet users, journalists and activists The most common suggestion by the people interviewed was that Sweden could help by providing training and knowledge about internet use, fact checking and freedom of expression. One of the Russian respondents took the view that it did not matter whether that training took place in Russia or Sweden. Even distance training would be a feasible option: “Train NGOs on how they can use the internet in their work, train journalists on how to use the internet more effectively and become better at investigative journalism.” His colleague Ilya Stechkin at Moscow State University agreed. In his view, one idea would be to start a media knowledge project to enhance people’s knowledge about internet use and online media. A number of the interviewees also suggested training for internet activists in protecting their own information more effectively. Alan Rosenblatt of the Internet Advocacy Roundtable in the US: “The biggest privacy problem is actually people giving out their information voluntarily.” This problem is not necessarily less pervasive in countries that lack protection of rights and where security forces usually spy on citizens. Blogger Ramy Raoof in Egypt: “Most people are not aware of how information travels, how it can be used or who can capture it. The majority also know little about digital security and what they can do to protect their privacy.” Countering censorship and blocking of websites One way to counter censorship is to move servers to other countries when websites are threatened with being shut down. The risk of the websites completely disappearing is thereby avoided, although it may still be difficult to access them from the country seeking to censor the content. Of the countries investigated, so far only China blocks foreign websites to any great extent. (YouTube is occasionally blocked in Pakistan.) Anyone who lives in China can evade internet censorship by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The service, which can be purchased through a company, involves connecting with a server in another country, thus gaining free access to any website they want. The disadvantages of using a VPN are that it costs money and the connection is slower. If the authorities wish to do so, they can shut down the VPN service, which sometimes happens in China. Anonymous ‘proxy servers’ based outside China can be used to access blocked content. Since websites are blocked only
  25. 25. 24 for computers in China, people can get access if it looks as if they are surfing on a computer in another country. sure that the rest of the world keeps an eye on what is happening affords greater security for these individuals. The US provides funding to develop proxy servers in order to make it easier for Chinese internet users to access blocked websites. The Chinese blogger interviewed by United Minds: Another measure is to provide technical equipment that reduces the risk of surveillance and protects the identity of internet users. Pakistani blogger Sana Saleem: “VPN services are important, especially in countries with growing internet surveillance.” “This may be a way to increase freedom of speech, but I don’t think it’s a very efficient way. A proxy server can be blocked, and I think they have enough technology and clever people to block any proxy.” There is other technology which can be used to evade national internet censorship. Alkasir is a popular service in the Middle East and available in both English and Arabic (www.alkasir.com). Alan Rosenblatt of the Internet Advocacy Roundtable in the US predicts that in the future satellites will be developed which will allow people unrestricted access to the internet, regardless of what country they are in. A technology race is currently under way between countries seeking to exercise censorship and organisations looking to prevent it. By contributing funding and technical know-how, Sweden can help organisations that want to prevent censorship. Protecting individuals and countering surveillance The blocking and shutting down of websites pose a serious problem. However, a no less important problem is the selfcensorship that takes place in countries where freedom of expression is not respected. In Pakistan, blasphemy against Islam is subject to the death penalty. There are limits as to what risks individuals dare to take, and few people are prepared to end up in prison for something they have written in a blog. According to the Russian journalist Oksana Chelysheva, it is important to monitor what is happening to critics of regimes whom the government is trying to silence. Making A number of websites provide information on how internet users can protect themselves against surveillance. One such website was created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation – Surveillance Self-Defence (ssd.eff.org). Legal assistance The Pakistani respondents emphasised the need for legal assistance. Shahzad Ahmad: “Our legal system has not been adapted to modern technology. The government uses gaps in the law to force through restrictions on freedom of expression. With the help of legal knowledge from the outside, it should be possible to avoid this.” One of the people interviewed in China would like legal assistance but of a different kind. The authorities in China have difficulty obtaining accurate information because there is a fear that the information provided will be misused. Thus it was important to build trust and introduce laws guaranteeing that certain information was protected: “Sweden could contribute legal knowledge about how to make laws that protect privacy.” Exchanges with internet activists Oksana Chelysheva thought that Sweden should step up its exchanges with activists working for internet freedom. By inviting internet activists to Sweden, it would be easier to gain an understanding of what needs these people had and what the situation was like in their own countries. This would also be a way to give activists moral support and encouragement. The contacts that were made could prove valuable.
  26. 26. The countries’ needs and Sweden’s importance 25 Information in other languages Exploiting existing projects The Russian respondents felt that Sweden should be better at providing information in other languages, especially Russian. Having information available only in Swedish or at best also in English was seen as a major limitation – especially from a Russian perspective. A number of the people interviewed argued that it was better to take advantage of existing projects than develop new structures. Pakistani blogger Sana Saleem: “There are already networks with people who work for human rights, and it is possible to get help from them.” One of the people interviewed in China also raised the issue of languages: “Most of the information in Sweden is in Swedish, so it’s difficult for us to understand it. You should maybe publish more things in English; that would make it easier to gain access to information on Sweden.” One of the Chinese respondents: “You should raise the Swedish profile on transparency in the projects that you are already doing, like Sida-funded projects.” Encouraging international dialogue Pranesh Prakash at CIS in India emphasised the value of a common international forum in which issues involving internet freedom can be discussed. He thought that Sweden and other countries should increase their involvement in the internet Governance Forum (IGF), a UN-established platform for discussing the development and future of the internet: “IGF will never replace the other forums, but if the issues discussed in other forums are brought to the IGF, there can be direct dialogue between different countries. The IGF will never gain credibility unless countries start treating it more seriously.” Pranesh feared that without a common forum where questions about the development of the internet could be discussed, the internet would be splintered and conflict-ridden. In the view of the Egyptian human rights activist Nadine Sherif, international agreements were necessary to protect the safety of internet activists. The internet has no bound­ aries and common regulations governing the right of individuals to protect their privacy were needed. Josh Levy of Free Press in the US thought it was risky for the West to try to force its views on other countries: “It will probably backfire if we tell other countries what to do; instead, we need to encourage an open dialogue about the benefits of internet freedom.” Raising the profile of Sweden and the Nordic countries According to many of those interviewed, Sweden and the other Nordic countries enjoy a high degree of credibility on issues involving freedom of expression and internet freedom. However, what is missing to some extent is visibility. Journalist Nasry Esmat in Egypt: “You need a strategy. Internet freedom is strongly connected to the US, so you need to differentiate yourselves from the US.” There is a strong desire, especially among the respondents in Egypt and Pakistan, for Sweden to become more involved in issues concerning freedom of expression and internet freedom, in part because the US should not be the only country associated with these issues. Shahzad Ahmad of Bytes for All: “Stronger support from Sweden is extremely important to those of us who work for human rights in authoritarian states or developing democracies like Pakistan.”
  27. 27. 26 Conclusıons and recommendatıons. The purpose of this study is to examine the state of internet freedom in six selected countries, what channels are important in each country, what their view is of Sweden as an advocate of internet freedom and what countries like Sweden can do to help increase internet freedom and development. The background to this is Sweden’s long-standing tradition of democracy and freedom of expression. Our country is also one of the most ICT-mature and creative countries in the world. This combination makes Sweden particularly well suited to promoting issues concerning internet freedom. The internet has already helped increase freedom of expression around the world by dramatically expanding access to information. Even in countries where freedom of expression is highly restricted, technology has made it easier for people to express their opinions. Unfortunately, however, this freedom cannot be taken for granted. There is a constant tug-of-war between those seeking to facilitate the flow of free information and those who want to introduce greater control and censorship. The conclusions of the projects can be summarised in the four general points below. Our involvement is desired It is clear that there is a desire for Sweden’s involvement on the issue of internet freedom. In a number of the countries investigated, freedom of expression online is under threat. The methods for silencing critics and restricting access to information are numerous and sophisticated, and they appear to be gathering strength. A number of organisations and individuals continuously monitor developments in internet freedom in the countries studied. But democratic countries also need to exert pressure and voice criticism when freedom of expression is suppressed. The issue of freedom of expression online is closely associated with the US, which according to the people interviewed could be considered a disadvantage, particularly in Muslim parts of the world. Many of the internet activists we interviewed indicate that this makes their struggle more difficult. There is a strong desire to have European countries such as Sweden become more involved in order to eliminate the one-sided association with the US, a controversial country. Sweden has a good reputation on issues of democracy and human rights, and thus enjoys considerable credibility. This is also true of our Nordic neighbours. In Russia, attention is naturally focused on Finland, which like Sweden, boasts a high degree of ICT maturity. According to the World Economic Forum Networked Readiness Index (2013), Finland has taken over as the world’s most ICT-mature country, while Sweden has fallen to third place. All the Nordic countries rank very high in the index. It is therefore advantageous to undertake projects aimed at increasing internet freedom in collaboration with the other Nordic countries in view of the greater impact. It is also crucial in this connection to find the right narrative, terms and tone to fit the local context. For instance, if ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘internet freedom’ are terms closely associated with the US, it could be strategic to use expressions that do not have such loaded connotations. Sweden can raise its profile Although Sweden’s involvement with internet freedom is nothing new, few people are familiar with what we do as a country in terms of advocacy for online freedom of expression. Such an understanding appears to be confined to those who take part in international forums where issues involving internet freedom are discussed. It is clear that Sweden needs to raise its profile and expand its strategic communication on issues involving internet freedom and development. Sweden’s role as an advocate of internet freedom needs to be communicated externally to a greater extent. The issue could also be highlighted more clearly in existing projects involving or undertaken by Sweden, such as Sida-funded projects. The internet is a superior channel One finding from the study is that the internet is a crucial channel of influence in all the countries investigated. Freedom of expression today is greater online than offline in
  28. 28. 27 every country in the study except for India. However, there are growing threats of future restrictions to internet freedom in a number of these countries. In countries like Russia and Egypt, where there is a relatively high level of internet access, the internet is an obvious channel for anyone who wants to disseminate independent information. Even in countries such as India and Pakistan, where access is low, the internet is a natural channel for reaching out to younger people involved in advocacy. Anyone who only studies statistics on the reach of different media risks drawing the wrong conclusions, although traditional media are still important. Newspaper circulation is gradually declining, while the number of internet users continues to rise at a rapid rate. This means that in a few years the internet will be an even more important channel. Moreover, traditional media are being consumed online to an ever increasing extent. As the ‘digital’ and ‘analogue’ spheres are gradually being integrated, it is becoming even more difficult to differentiate between freedom online and offline. Working together makes us stronger Sweden needs to raise its profile on the issue of internet freedom. It is crucial that key actors in society work together if change is to be effected. Civil society, government and the business community all need to be encouraged to work together in order to expand opportunities to exert influence and achieve results. Influence can be brought to bear through numerous channels; it is by no means confined to high-level political or diplomatic contacts. Raising the issue in business discussions with Swedish companies or in exchanges with Swedish institutions of higher education can have a substantial impact. The Swedish Institute has a major and vital task to facilitate this and encourage the collaboration of different stakeholders.
  29. 29. 28 Appendıx. Lınks to organısatıons and ındıvıduals that monıtor ınternet freedom ın dıfferent parts of the world. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Freedom House, www.freedomhouse.org Reporters Without Borders, www.rsf.org Open Net Initiative (ONI), www.opennet.net Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), www.eff.org Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), www.cpj.org Digital Civil Rights in Europe (EDRI), www.edri.org The Citizen Lab, University of Toronto, www.citizenlab.org Association for Progressive Communications (APC), www.apc.org The Public Voice, www.thepublicvoice.org Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE), www.palermo.edu/cele/ Bolo Bhi, www.bolobhi.org Mideast Youth, www.mideastyouth.com Free Press, www.freepress.net IT for Change, www.itforchange.net Internet & Society Co:llaboratory, en.collaboratory.de Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), www.ffii.org Blocked on Weibo, blockedonweibo.tumblr.com/(tool) GreatFire.org, en.greatfire.org (tool)
  30. 30. 29 EGYPT: “In the conservatıve Egyptıan mınd, freedom ıs not necessarıly seen as somethıng good.” In Egypt, the internet has a comparatively strong position, in part because of the role the country played in connection with the Arab Spring. However, this does not mean there is freedom of expression online or that the privacy of internet users is respected. Since the revolution, the authorities have continued more or less as before, albeit with reduced capacity. During the 2011 revolution in Egypt, the blogger and human rights activist Ramy Raoof was at the centre of events. He was interviewed on CNN and in other media about ongoing events in the country. He reported among other things on the Mubarak regime’s desperate countermove to shut down the internet and disrupt mobile phone service, which was aimed at the demonstrators. Ramy Raoof views Facebook and Twitter as important tools “in the service of freedom”, but does not think they were decisive in the Egyptian revolution. The demonstrations against Mubarak continued for days even after the internet was completely shut down, he notes. Expanding the ICT infrastructure was part of the Mubarak regime’s strategy for generating growth and creating new jobs. There was no extensive internet censorship, although according to Freedom House (2012) technology was used to monitor the opposition and spread propaganda. There were also cases of bloggers being imprisoned for something they had written. The first case involved the 23-year-old law student Kareem Amer, who in 2007 was sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly insulting Islam and Mubarak in a blog entry. After the fall of the Mubarak regime, the military continued as before. In April 2011, the 26-year-old blogger Maikel Nabil was sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly insulting the Egyptian military in a blog entry. Nabil was released in January 2012, after more than 300 days in prison and today is living in exile in Germany (www.maikelnabil.com). According to Ramy Raoof, the current Egyptian government also wants to collect any information it can get hold of, regardless of whether there is any reason to collect it: “It does not censor information in the sense that it makes web pages unavailable; we have no record of that.” The Muslim Brotherhood Elections to Egypt’s lower house of parliament were held in late 2011 and early 2012. The party backed by the Muslim Brotherhood won a majority of votes. A few months later, the Islamist Muhammad Morsi won the presidential election and became Egypt’s president. According to Freedom House (2013), the country’s new leader shows no respect for principles such as democracy and human rights. The repression continues and freedom of expression in particular is being stifled. A large number of demonstrators have been killed by the security forces, and only in a few cases have police officers been convicted of a crime. Journalists and bloggers have been prosecuted following charges of ‘insulting the president’. In addition, there are legal proceedings underway against a number of NGOs, including Freedom House. The interviewees believe that much continues more or less as before, with the difference that the authorities cannot work as unhampered as they did in Mubarak’s time. The journalist Nasry Esmat says that before the revolution the security forces used to monitor what activists did online. “What’s stopping them today is that they don’t have enough capacity; they are busy with other problems,” he says. The general view is that the Egyptian authorities are not carrying out internet censorship in the sense that they filter information or block websites. That is why many of the organisations that monitor internet freedom in different countries consider Egypt to have greater internet freedom than Russia and India, for example. Egypt – a connected country Mubarak invested in expanding Egypt’s ICT infrastructure, thereby enabling increased internet use. Only later did he realise that the new technology might constitute a serious threat to his reign. The role played by the internet in overthrowing the Mubarak regime led to a sharp increase in interest in social media. In late 2011, there were over ten million Facebook accounts registered in Egypt, placing the country among the top twenty nations with the highest number of Facebook users.
  31. 31. 30 The respondents believe that the internet has helped boost freedom of expression in Egypt, in the sense that there is greater access to independent information. “The internet has created an alternative route for getting access to information, a source that the government cannot control,” says Nadine Sherif, who works at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. quires some effort to get reliable information,” says blogger Ramy Raoof. “The web is a free, decentralised media channel, which allows people to freely bring up topics that concern them. Many taboos found in traditional media have been broken online,” explains Ramy Raoof. He also emphasises the importance of internet users themselves creating content, as opposed to just taking it in. The blogger Maikel Nabil, who today lives in exile in Germany, describes himself on his website as, among other things, ‘liberal’, ‘secular’, ‘capitalist’, ‘feminist’ and ‘proWestern’ – designations which are clearly controversial in Egypt. “Egypt is a really conservative society. I wouldn’t say that every taboo has been broken, but people can no longer pretend that there isn’t political and religious pluralism,” says the journalist Nasry Esmat. “Even people who are not accepted by society can get their voices heard online,” he adds. According to the interviewees, there really is no topic that cannot be discussed online in Egypt. “I’ve seen information related to military activities that breaks social and cultural taboos. I wouldn’t claim that this is popular with those in power, but one can find all kinds of information,” adds Nasry Esmat. The internet as a news channel in Egypt The internet is an increasingly vital channel for news in Egypt. Some 87 per cent of the population think it is important to have a free internet with no censorship (Pew Research Center, 2012). However, those interviewed would argue that the information Egyptians get online is not particularly reliable. “There is extensive spreading of rumours. Of course, there is in every country, but the situation is especially problematic in Egypt, since Mubarak taught people to consider certain opinions as facts,” points out the human rights activist Nadine Sherif. “Source checking is bad, and many internet users can’t distinguish between true and false.” “The internet is a channel for sharing information. It’s up to the users themselves to decide what is true – and it also re- How freedom of expression is viewed in other countries “When people think about freedom, they usually think about the US. The West in general is associated with freedom, but in the conservative Egyptian mind this is not necessarily seen as something good,” says journalist Nasry Esmat. “Freedom is to some extent connected to moral decay. The Islamists equate freedom to gay rights, and that is not seen as something good in Egypt – not something you want to be associated with.” The view of Sweden as a champion of internet freedom As blogger Ramy Raoof has limited knowledge of Sweden, he is reluctant to say anything about the extent to which Sweden represents internet freedom. “Sweden is generally regarded as a role model for how its citizens are treated. I don’t know about Sweden and internet freedom, but I have never heard anything bad about Sweden,” says the human rights activist Nadine Sherif. The journalist Nasry Esmat notes that he previously knew nothing about Sweden. After having taken part in training organised by the Swedish Institute, he definitely associates Sweden with freedom issues and specifically freedom of expression. However, he thinks that the image of the country as a champion of internet freedom has been marred by the legal proceedings against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
  32. 32. Appendix 31 “As a journalist, I was very enthusiastic when we got access to information about the connections between the US Embassy in Cairo and the Mubarak regime. We feel that we have the right to know about this,” he explains. ments protecting the rights of internet activists to freedom of expression. “The internet has no boundaries,” she points out, “and common regulations, for example governing the right of individuals to protect their privacy, are needed.” Nasry Esmat is aware that the charges against Assange are unrelated to WikiLeaks, but still thinks the proceedings against Assange place Sweden in an unfavourable light. The journalist Nasry Esmat wants Sweden to adopt what he calls ‘the WikiLeaks model’, and guarantee universal unrestricted access to information. “I think unrestricted access to the internet should be a human right,” he says. How Sweden can help “You need a strategy; internet freedom is strongly associated with the US, so you need to differentiate yourselves from the US,” he advises. The human rights activist Nadine Sherif wants countries like Sweden to press for the adoption of international agree- Summary for Egypt . The Mubarak regime’s investment in ICT led to a . dramatic expansion of internet use in Egypt. This in turn provided a basis for the subsequent immense importance of social media during the Egyptian revolution. There is no extensive internet censorship in place in . the country, but technology is used to monitor the opposition and spread political propaganda. . positive. At the same time, most Egyptians think the internet should be unrestricted and uncensored. The people interviewed have limited knowledge about Sweden, but there is a desire for greater involvement on the part of European countries in issues concerning freedom of expression online and protecting the privacy of internet users. Facts about Egypt Number of inhabitants: 80 million Since the revolution, the Egyptian authorities have . continued much as before, though with reduced capacity. The Islamists show no respect for principles such as democracy and human rights. Journalists and bloggers have been prosecuted following charges that they insulted President Morsi. The respondents nonetheless believe that the inter- . net has helped increase freedom of expression in Egypt, as there is now greater access to independent information. Any topic can be discussed online; there is no systematic filtering of information. According to the interviewees, many Egyptians have an unfavourable view of the US. The term ‘freedom’ is associated with the West and is not necessarily viewed by conservative Egyptians as Internet access: 39% of the population (ITU, 2011) Number of mobile phone subscriptions: 83 million (ITU, 2011) Number of Facebook accounts: 12 million (Internet World Stats, 2012) Purchasing power parity GDP per capita: $6,281 (World Bank, 2011) Important social media Facebook and to some extent Twitter. YouTube videos are spread via Facebook.
  33. 33. 32 INDIA: “Easıer to censor onlıne than offlıne.” India is usually described as the world’s largest democracy. Though public discourse is lively in many respects, this does not preclude those governing the country from trying to restrict freedom of expression online and introducing laws that allow arbitrary censorship. Alok Dixit, 25 years old, is an internet activist and was involved in launching ‘Save Your Voice’, a campaign aimed at safeguarding freedom of expression online. He started his professional career as a journalist, and without the internet, as the saying goes, he would be “nothing more than a poor Indian bloke”. The ‘Save Your Voice’ movement has attracted considerable attention, in part thanks to the hunger strike carried out by Alok Dixit and the movement’s founder, Aseem Trivedi, in protest against Section 66 A of India’s Information Technology Act (ITA). One of the provisions of the law is that anyone can file a complaint against ‘offensive’ web content. The internet provider is then required to remove the content criticised within 36 hours, with no recourse to a court of law. A court ruling on the legality or otherwise of the complaint may be sought but only after the content has been removed. As recently as September 2012, the police arrested Alok Dixit’s partner in Mumbai, Aseem Trivedi, for satirical drawings he had posted online. The drawings were part of a campaign against corruption, but the censorship was justified on the grounds that Aseem Trivedi had made fun of India’s national symbols. However, when we talk to Alok Dixit, he does not think that internet censorship is a serious social problem in India. “The authorities try to censor the internet, but they’re not successful – they don’t have a chance to keep up,” he explains. According to Alok Dixit, the internet has in practice meant a dramatic increase in freedom of expression in India. “It’s a true revolution. Even a girl in the country, who can barely leave her parents’ house, can express her opinions on Facebook.” Misused censorship laws Nevertheless, the laws that India has introduced to restrict freedom of expression online have met with harsh criticism. “These laws are actually really bad from the perspective of freedom of expression,” says Pranesh Prakash of the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) in Bangalore. “There are greater restrictions on what a person can say online than offline,” he notes. CIS monitors the practical application of the laws. Prakash and his colleagues contacted various internet providers seven times to request that web content be removed. Content that could hardly be considered illegal was deliberately chosen. “In six of the seven cases, the internet provider removed the content. We were only told no once – and that was when it involved an ad that the internet provider would lose money on if it was removed,” Prakash recalls. Internationally, the case involving internet censorship in India that attracted the most attention was the arrest of two 21-year-old women by police in Mumbai in November 2012. They had criticised the authorities for basically shutting the city down during mourning for the deceased leader of Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray for fear of disturbances. The women were later released, and the case against them was dropped. But the incident shows that the law can easily be misused – and that this clearly happens. More accepting view of censorship Anja Kovacs heads the progressive think tank Internet Democracy Project in New Delhi. In her opinion, it is easy to submit a complaint and demand that web content be removed, but she doubts whether that many cases will be upheld in a court of law. “Legal proceedings in India are very slow so we don’t know yet,” she explains. Anja Kovacs is originally from Belgium but has lived in India since 2001. She believes that censorship in India is generally more extensive than in many Western countries and that Indians also have a more accepting view of censorship. “The reason for this is that censorship has been used as an
  34. 34. Appendix instrument to defuse social and religious conflicts. The government, with the support of large sections of Indian society, restrict freedom of expression in different groups by prohibiting them from speaking ill of one another.” 33 How Sweden can help But Anja Kovacs thinks that this has to change. “If we want to maintain a free, open internet, India has to give up some of its obsession with controlling what is said,” she insists. Alok Dixit knows almost nothing at all about Sweden, so he is reluctant to give advice on what countries like Sweden should do. In general, he believes training is the best way to strengthen freedom of expression online in the long term. He argues that if more people are likely to use the internet in the right way, attempts to censor it will fail. Extensive laws have also been introduced for internet cafés, which means that visitors must be carefully registered and monitored. One of the purposes of these laws is to get rid of pornography and make it safer for women to visit internet cafés, but in Anja Kovacs’ view, this has the opposite effect. “Young women feel more vulnerable when they are registered and monitored by the young men who run the internet cafés,” she explains. He is backed up here by Pranesh Prakash, who thinks a lot can be done for internet access in India. One important measure is to spread constructive examples of how the internet can be used. He also believes that Sweden and other countries should continue to support the Internet Governance Forum, IGF, which has the potential to become a common forum in which countries around the world can discuss issues involving freedom of expression online. The internet is slowly growing in importance Many advocacy movements in India are active online. Although they have other channels – the majority of their supporters do not have an internet connection – online campaigns are nonetheless becoming more common, according to the respondents, especially via Facebook. The number of internet users in India is growing at a rapid rate – although it is easy to read too much into the figures. According to official statistics, there are currently over 900 million mobile phone subscriptions. However, most Indians cannot use their mobile phones to surf online. The rapid rise in the number of mobile phone subscriptions is due in part to well-to-do households acquiring additional and new mobile phones, which is not the same thing as an increase in the number of mobile phone users. “There is a major generational gap in terms of internet use,” says Alok Dixit. “Those in power don’t understand the new technology, so they’re afraid. They consider the internet to be a threat rather than an opportunity,” he explains. Anja Kovacs appreciates that Sweden is involved in freedom of expression and human rights issues. “Greater involvement is needed from more countries,” she says. In her view, the Stockholm Internet Forum is an excellent initiative. But Kovacs regrets that Sweden has helped undermine its own credibility through its actions in other areas. The examples she gives are the prosecution of Pirate Bay’s founder (she does not remember his name), the handling of the case involving WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and the Swedish government’s unqualified support for Swedish companies that sell bugging devices to dictatorships (she does not remember the names of the companies). “There are too many murky parts to these stories,” she objects. Otherwise, Kovacs has a favourable view of Sweden and believes that European countries such as Sweden have greater credibility among Indians than the US.
  35. 35. 34 Summary for India . Number of mobile phone subscriptions: About 894 million (ITU, 2011) India has introduced laws that allow arbitrary inter- . net censorship. In a way, it is easier to censor information online than offline. Taking a broader view, freedom of expression on the . internet is nevertheless greater than it was as more people than before are able to share views. Existing censorship is far from comprehensive. The interviewees have a positive view of Sweden’s . involvement in issues concerning freedom of expression online. They feel it is important to have international forums where these issues can be discussed. Sweden has a good reputation essentially, but informed Indians are surprised by Swedish actions on some issues – including the treatment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. As for India, they feel that training is the most effec- tive instrument for strengthening freedom of expression online in the long run. With more internet users who have had training, it will be more difficult to exercise censorship. Facts about India Number of inhabitants: About 1.2 billion (Census of India, 2011) Internet access: About 137 million users, 10% of the population (Internet & Mobile Association of India, 2012) Number of smartphones: 58 million (FICCI & KPMG International, 2012) Number of Facebook accounts: 63 miljoner (Internet World Stats, 2012) Purchasing power parity GDP per capita: $3,650 (World Bank, 2011) Organisations in India that seek to promote freedom of expression online Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), Internet Democracy Project, Save Your Voice, Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), Free Software Movement of India. Important social media Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Orkut. Also noteworthy One in five women in India and Egypt think it is inappropriate for women to use the internet. Source: Pew Research Center
  36. 36. Appendix 35 CHINA: “We feel lıke we are constantly beıng monıtored.” China is the country with the most advanced system for internet censorship and surveillance. Despite hundreds of millions of internet users – more than in any other country – the government manages to maintain broad control over the flow of information. track everyone,” says Wu Fang. A common method of conveying criticism which is not allowed is to use code words, symbols and images that the search engines do not capture, he notes. We hear examples of how censorship in China is exercised in concrete terms when we talk to a free-spoken Chinese blogger in Beijing whom we have called Wu Fang. (The names of the people interviewed have been changed in order to conceal their identities.) He has been interviewed about a dozen times by the police because of something he wrote online. They have visited him at home and at work, and on one occasion he was even summoned to the police station. “They order you to delete what you’ve written, and if you don’t they shut down your website. They can threaten you by saying your family will be harmed or that you’ll lose your job,” he says. There are also ways of circumventing ‘the Great Firewall’ and accessing blocked foreign websites such as Facebook and Twitter. “We use VPNs. There are different types of software to get around the firewall. Obviously, that costs money and your connection will be slower. But if somebody really wants to, there’s always a way of getting around the firewall,” explains Cheng Lian. Wu Fang seems surprisingly unconcerned about these police visits. “So far they haven’t done anything – they’ve just threatened,” he notes. It is clear that the system of controls works, according to the Chinese respondents. “In practice it’s based to a large extent on self-censorship. There’s always a limit to what risks you’re prepared to take. You don’t want to end up in prison because you wrote something in a blog,” explains Cheng Lian, a woman who works on human rights issues, and who also wishes to remain anonymous. An important feature of this control system is search engines that identify suspicious words and combinations of words. No one knows exactly what people are forbidden to write, which makes internet users more cautious. But it is clear that bringing up certain topics is not allowed: the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Taiwan, Falun Gong and demands for Tibet’s independence, for example. It is also clearly forbidden to criticise the Chinese Communist Party or China’s political system. Not comprehensive The system of controls is not comprehensive. “Several hundred million Chinese use the internet, and it’s impossible to But completely private communication online is not possible; there is no guarantee that someone is not recording what is being said. “We feel like we are constantly being monitored,” she says. Greater freedom of expression nonetheless Yet, in spite of censorship, the respondents agree that the internet has helped boost freedom of expression in China. “The limits of what people can say have been stretched,” says Deng Bo, an academic specialising in human rights. Free speech online has rubbed off on other parts of society to some extent. “TV is still strictly controlled, but freedom of expression in newspapers has increased somewhat,” he feels. “That’s right. Before, there were just newspapers and TV, which are easy for the authorities to control. But with the internet, the quantity of information is so vast, and just about anyone can post information, even from other parts of the world, which makes it very difficult to control everything.” The authorities also understand that some criticism of society has to be allowed. “The authorities have been forced to be more transparent. Information still trickles out, and often it’s better for them to communicate it than have it develop into a bigger scandal,” explains Cheng Lian.

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