Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that defends journalists and fights censorship, on Monday added the governments of Bahrain and Belarus to its 2012 list of Internet Enemies—an inventory of governments worldwide that filter online content, restrict their citizens' Internet access, track cyber dissidents and use the Web to spread pro-government propaganda while smearing opposition. These countries join other governments that the NGO has cited as cyber oppressors, including Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Bahrain, whose population of 1.2 million people reside an area roughly the size of Washington, D.C., experienced an uprising last February as part of the Arab Spring protests throughout the Middle East and northern Africa. During that time, the government of this Persian Gulf nation imposed a news blackout on its citizens by keeping out international media, harassing human rights activists and arresting bloggers and Internet activists, among other things. Reporters Without Borders claims that one of these activists died in captivity. During the uprising, Internet traffic to and from Bahrain dropped 20 percent, compared to the previous three weeks, according to Internet Enemies report.
Belarus, a former Soviet republic slightly smaller than Kansas and with a population of 9.5 million, joined the enemies list thanks to its government's efforts to increase Web-site blocking and filter information distributed via the Internet. President Alexander Lukashenko's regime has used Twitter to send messages meant to intimidate demonstrators, and the country's main Internet Service Provider has diverted those trying to access the online social network Vkontakte to Web sites that download malware on users' computers, according to Reporters Without Borders. A new law, which took effect in January, reinforced Internet surveillance and control measures, the NGO reports.
India and Kazakhstan's governments were put on the organization's "under surveillance" list, joining Australia, Egypt and 10 other countries. India, which is expected to have nearly 300 million citizens using the Internet by 2014 (up from 100 million in late 2011), has increasingly begun to monitor and control Web traffic, for example asking Google to remove hundreds of videos critical of politicians. A district court in Kazakhstan ordered 20 Web sites deemed to be promoting terrorism and religious extremism be blocked in August 2011, a move that helped land the country on the NGO's list.
Somewhat surprisingly, Libya and Venezuela were dropped from the "under surveillance" list. Libya's liberation is primarily due to the overthrow and execution of Col. Muammar Gaddafi, who tried to impose a news blackout by cutting access to the Internet even as his regime crumbled. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has successfully controlled most aspects of the country's media but continues to allow free access to the Internet throughout the country, at least for now, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The full 2012 Internet Enemies report is available on the NGO's Web site (pdf).
Image of the February 2011 Bahrain uprising courtesy of Lewa'a Alnasr, via Wikimedia Commons