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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Syria to censor web sites

This time, even Assad's apologist Josh Landis is upset.

Landis reports on his blog that the Syrian Minister of Telecommunications has decided to censor websites by closing down all websites with comment sections.

Hat Tip: The Arabist

This is a frightening measure introduced by the Minister of Telecommunications. Websites have been the main avenue of intellectual freedom and expression in Syria. Many, if not most, of the commentators on Syria Comment use pseudonyms in order to protect themselves from the adverse effects that would surely ensue if they were to write under their real names.

It is hard to believe that Syria would want to close down all websites with comment sections. Already all Blogspot blogs have been blocked in Syria. They can still be read through Bloglines or any other RSS feed, but the comment sections are not so easily accessed.

The following is from a report by the Lebanese Al-Safir newspaper web site dated August 3:

However, and amid this delay, "a new player" came out: The Ministry of Telecommunications and Technology. The latter issued a decision, which drove the owners of the Syrian websites crazy, and they came out to oppose and defy [the decision]. In its circular, the Telecommunications Ministry says: "We ask the owners of the Syrian websites to exercise accuracy and objectivity (…) [ellipsis as published] and to post the name of the writer of an article and the one who comments on it in a clear and detailed manner. The failure to do so would result in warning the website owner and rendering his website temporarily inaccessible. In case the violation is repeated, the website will become permanently inaccessible."

The ministry justifies its circular by saying that some articles and commentaries, without being coupled with evidence and attributed to certain persons, include "lies and expressions that run counter to the ethics of speech and that annoy others, which make them publicly committed crimes of defamation and violation of public morals." The ministry said that that "encroaches upon the credibility of the websites that post such articles on the one hand and creates confusion in the society on the other".

For the Syrians, the demand that the name be revealed means a threat, which is a purely security tradition. Those working in the field of internet publishing are now fed- up. Colleague Khalid Sumaysim, chief editor of the Syria Life website, says that the decision is "an attempt to restrict the freedoms of the journalists and ordinary people". He noted that requesting the posting of the personal profiles of website writers or commentators "make them refrain from expressing their opinions about any issue, and their opinions will therefore be kept absent, and they will desert the Syrian websites". He expressed surprise that the Telecommunications Ministry designated itself as a censor although the Information Ministry did not interfere in this context.

Read the whole thing.


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