Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 Among the countries in the world with the most restricted access, North Korea and Cuba allow only a small community of political elites unfettered online access. The North Korean regime maintains a small presence on the Internet through websites promoting its ideology and political agenda. Most users rely on external Chinese service providers for connectivity, thus subjecting themselves to China’s Internet filtering system, while the limited number of North Korean-sponsored websites are hosted abroad (OpenNet Initiative, 2007). As a result, there has been a growing segment of the North Korean population gaining access to Chinese networks, through Internet-enabled mobile phones smuggled in from the China black market (MacKinnon, 2005a). While it is rare for North Koreans to have local access to the Internet, even then they are only able to browse a few dozen websites approved by the government, as such content is intended for use at only selected research institutes, schools and factories (Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, 2003). Public facilities with Internet access come at a steep price of 20,000 won per month, which makes up seven to eight times the average monthly wage in North Korea (Yang-Jung, 2005).

Comment Icon0 In Cuba, severe restrictions to Internet use have been largely attributed to the U.S. trade embargo, in part influenced by Cuban government policy as well as the poor economic conditions of Cuban citizens, who lack the necessary technology for Internet access (Taubman, 2002). In 1998, Cuba only had a single 64 kbps satellite connection for the entire nation. Currently, Cuba still uses its satellite connection, but with the additional upload bandwidth of 65 Mb/s and download bandwidth of 124 Mb/s for the entire country (Del-Valle, 2006). The sale of “computers, printers, duplicators, photocopiers and mass printing tools” to private individuals by state shops has been banned since January 2002 by a Ministry of Domestic Commerce’s decree. The sale of modems to the public had already been banned (Reporters Without Borders, 2003b). All this limits the potential of Internet penetration in Cuba, where Cuban computer ownership was 3.3 per 100 inhabitants. The Cuban government prevents attacks on its political ideology by preventing broad access to contrary views (Taubman, 2002).

Comment Icon0 Iran and Oman came in third and fourth, with the most pervasive level of Internet filtering (OpenNet Initiative, 2007). Iran’s Internet regulations tend to be ambiguous and extensive, mostly prohibiting religious and political content. For instance, media producers cannot sow social discord or division, dissent against state interests, insult Islam or officials, or quote from deviant parties or parties opposed to Islam (Iran – Constitution, 1992). While the Internet was first afforded free expression in Iran, it was only a few years later that the Iranian government caught on. Even though particular bloggers and journalists were targeted, detained and even tortured for their “subversive” online activities, there exists an estimated 23 million Iranians online (International Telecommunication Union, 2008), among whom maintain approximately 60,000 active Persian blogs (Kelly & Etling, 2008).

Comment Icon0 As a monarchy, the Oman government has been generally protective of human rights, though international groups have criticized Oman for restricting free speech and assembly (U.S. Department of State, 2008). The country’s sole Internet service provider, Omantel, underwent partial privatisation in 2005 with the Government retaining a 70% stake with the remaining 30% publicly listed. (Wireless Federation, 2008). In October 2006, Internet subscriptions totalled 92,126, which accounted for about 2.9% Internet penetration in Oman. Out of this number, approximately 14% were for high-speed Internet (ADSL) services, while the majority of subscribers continued to rely on dial-up connections (Omantel News Room, December 2006). Anyone who uses the Internet in Oman is asked to sign an agreement not to publish anything that 1) destabilizes the state, 2) insults the head of state or the royal family, 3) questions trust in the justice of the government, 4) creates hatred towards the government, 5) creates hatred for any ethnic group or religion, 6) promotes pornography or violence, 7) promotes any religious or political system that contradicts the state’s system, and 8) promotes illegal goods or prescription drugs over the Internet (Omantel, 2008). Besides deploying technical filtering on questionable websites, the Oman government imposes legal and physical controls to ensure that the Internet community does not access or publish unlawful material. As a tendency of most citizens facing stringent regulations on Internet use, such laws and regulations give rise to self-censorship among writers and publishers. In the case of Oman, both online and offline publications face similar circumstances, where in some countries, online and offline materials are assessed differently.

Comment Icon0 In Myanmar, the reported number of Internet users for the year 2005 ranged from 78,000 to nearly 300,000 (Xinhua News, 2006b). This sets Myanmar as one of 30 countries with less than 1% Internet penetration (International Telecommunications Union, 2008). There are two major reasons for this outcome, first being the heavy regulations on online access and content via legal, regulatory and economic constraints (Digital Freedom Network, 2000), and second being the cost of Internet access that is beyond the means of most citizens (Parker, 2006). In addition, Myanmar human rights record has been at an all-time low (U.S. Department of State, 2006), peaking in the international media during the Myanmar anti-government protest in 2007. This national protest was sparked after Burma’s ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council, removed fuel subsidies unannounced, causing the price of diesel and petrol to suddenly rise as much as 100%, and the price of compressed natural gas for buses to increase five-fold in less than a week (Head, 2007). The rise in fuel prices naturally caused food prices to increase as well. Opposition political activists and students who organized protest demonstrations, were quickly and harshly dealt with by the junta . About a month later, thousands of Buddhist monks took to the streets as well, until a violent government crackdown was conducted two weeks later (Aljazeera News, 2007). By 28 September 2007, the Myanmar government blocked all access to the Internet, as a means to suppress news of the unrest from spreading (Bangkok Post, 2007). Although Myanmar does not have the same level of technical sophistication in Internet filtering as similar regimes worldwide, the severe manner of regulating access and content online has been known to include cases such as that of four dissidents who were given 19-year prison sentences for anti-government poems (Mizzima News, 2006).

Chapter 2.4.1 – Countries with Restricted Internet Access

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