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Thursday, 19 June 2003 : 2003 Cyber-Freedom Prize Reporters Without Borders - GlobeNet

(JPEG) At least 49 cyber-dissidents are currently in jail for just trying to exercise their right to free expression. Imprisonment means getting rid of witnesses and threatening everyone’s right to information, so Reporters Without Borders has decided to recognise a cyber-dissident who has been prevented from informing us via the Internet. Reporters Without Borders and GlobeNet will award the first Cyber-Freedom Prize to an Internet user who has demonstrated a strong commitment to freedom of information online through their work or the views they have expressed.

Please confirm attendance by 17 June by e-mail to presse@rsf.org or by calling +33 (0)1 4483-8472

Publication of second annual report on cyberspace

THE INTERNET UNDER SURVEILLANCE OBSTACLES TO THE FREE FLOW OF INFORMATION ONLINE

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At the same time as it announces the Cyber-Freedom Prize, Reporters Without Borders will also unveil its second Internet Report.

"The Internet is one of the most powerful agents of freedom. It exposes truth to those who wish to see and hear it. It is no wonder that some governments and organizations fear the Internet and its ability to make the truth known." Vinton G. Cerf

The number of Internet users in China doubles nearly every six months and the number of Chinese websites every year. But this dizzying expansion of cyberspace is matched by government efforts to control, censor and repress it with harsh laws, jailing cyber-dissidents, blocking access to websites, spying on discussion forums and shutting down cybercafés.

In Vietnam, the Internet is not very widespread but is nevertheless firmly under the control of the ruling Communist Party, which seems to be faithfully copying neighbouring China by arresting cyber-dissidents, barring access to sites deemed politically or culturally "incorrect" and monitoring private e-mail.

Going online in Cuba is very restricted and closely watched by the government. Official permission is required and the necessary equipment, including the most modern, is rationed and can only be bought in special state-run shops, again only with special permission. The government passed laws as soon as the Internet came to Cuba. Decree 209 ("Access to the World Computer Network from Cuba") of June 1996 says it cannot be used "in violation of the moral principles of Cuban society and its laws" and that e-mail messages must not "endanger national security."

In Tunisia, the government says it favours rapid and democratic growth of the Internet. But in practice, state security police keep it under very tight control. Sites are censored, e-mail intercepted, cybercafés monitored and users arrested and arbitrarily imprisoned. One cyber-dissident, Zouhair Yahyaoui, was arrested in 2002 and sent to jail for two years.

In mid-June this year, more than 50 Internet users were in prison around the world, three quarters of them in China.

The Internet is the bane of all dictatorial regimes, but even in democracies such as the United States, Britain and France, new anti-terrorism laws have tightened government control of it and undermined the principle of protecting journalistic sources.

This report is about attitudes to the Internet by the powerful in 60 countries, between spring 2001 and spring 2003. The preface is by Vinton G. Cerf, who is often called the "father" of the Internet.

The entire report will be available in English and French on the Reporters Without Borders website, www.rsf.org, from 20 June, downloadable in pdf format. Go to "media download" to have the cover on 300 high resolution. A printed version can be ordered from Reporters Without Borders, 5 rue Geoffroy-Marie, 75009 Paris, France (10 euros + postage).

42 cyber-dissents imprisoned in China, including:

Liu Di, held in secret A 22-year-old psychology student arrested at Beijing University on 7 November 2002 after she urged people online (under the pseudonym "Stainless Steel Mouse") to "ignore the propaganda" of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and "live in true freedom."

Huang Qi, jailed for five years Founder of the website www.tianwang.com, arrested at his home on 3 June 2000. He then waited nearly three years before learning last month that he had been sentenced to five years in prison for "subversion" and incitement to overthrow the government. During his sham trial held in secret in August 2001, he appeared exhausted by interrogation sessions and prison conditions and showed physical signs of having been beaten.

3 cyber-dissidents imprisoned in the Maldives, including: Ahmad Didi, jailed for life A prosperous 50-year-old businessman who once ran for parliament. He and three other people launched a newsletter, Sandhaanu, which was distributed by e-mail on request. Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ordered their arrest in January 2002 and in July, three of them were sentenced to life imprisonment for insulting the president and allegedly trying to overthrow the government by starting up the newsletter. They have been refused the right to appeal and still do not have lawyers to defend them.

5 cyber-dissidents imprisoned in Vietnam, including: Le Chi Quang, jailed for four years A 32-year-old chemistry and law graduate arrested on 21 February 2002 in a Hanoi cybercafé by a plainclothes policeman pretending to be an Internet user. He was sentenced on 8 November to four years in prison for posting material online criticising the communist government. He has kidney problems but a court recently refused to free him for medical reasons.

1 cyber-dissident imprisoned in Malaysia: Hishamuddin Rais, sentenced to two years A staff member of the online daily paper Malaysiakini.com arrested on 10 April 2001 with five other dissidents as they were preparing for a demonstration in front of the offices of the National Human Rights Commission. They were accused of "attempting to overthrow the government." The outspoken independent journalist was jailed without trial for two years under the Internal Security Act.

1 cyber-dissident imprisoned in Tunisia: Zouhair Yahyaoui, jailed for two years A young unemployed graduate and Internet enthusiast who set up a news website in Tunisia in July 2001. He was arrested on 4 June 2002 by a dozen plainclothes police in a cybercafé in a Tunis suburb. He was interrogated and tortured by state security agents and forced to reveal the access code to his website. After a hasty trial, he was sentenced on 28 June to two years in prison for "putting out false news." He has staged three hunger strikes in jail so far this year.

Reporters Wihtout Borders, secretariat international, 5 rue Geoffroy-Marie, 75009 Paris, Tél : (33) 1 44 83 84 84, Fax : (33) 1 45 23 11 51, E-mail : rsf@rsf.org, Web : www.rsf.org

Presentation of the 2003 report: Thursday 19 June 2003 at 9 a.m.

From 20 June, the entire report will be:
-  posted on the Reporters Without Borders website (www.rsf.org)
-  available in booklet form (10 euros + postage)
-  downloadable in PDF format
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