Tougher Internet filtering policies are being applied throughout Southeast Asia. Singapore’s government initiated new rules requiring online news websites to apply for individual licenses and put up a $50,000 bond. The move met with strong response from 150 websites that blacked out their homepages to protest in May, and from 2,000 demonstrators who took to streets in protest. Vietnam has been putting activists and dissidents in jail on specious charges. The country has detained forty-six bloggers and democracy activists so far this year – more than during the whole of 2012—amid erupting strikes and social unrest stirred by inflation, land-rights abuses, and corruption. Thailand has also clamped down on the Internet, strengthening Internet censorship: 20,978 URLs were blocked last year, compared to just 5,078 in 2011.
The Gambia House of Representatives has enacted a new law banning criticism and derogatory content towards government officials on the Internet. The Information and Communication Bill 2013 puts stringent punishments in place for those who violate the law: up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to three million Dalasi (about 100,000 US dollars), or both. The law targets any person found to be spreading false news or derogatory statements against the government or any public officials. The bill seeks to provide deterrent punishment of people who are engaged in campaigns against the government both in and out of the country, according to Nana Grey-Johnson, the Gambia’s Minister of Information, Communication and Information Infrastructure. Human rights groups say the new law takes the restriction of freedom of expression in the Gambia to “a shocking new level”.
Russia has been pushing new legislation that allows copyright holders to ask courts to block access to allegedly pirated content as well as hyperlinks to such content. The anti-piracy law has stirred much controversy, for it may cause Wikipedia to be blocked in the country, since Wikipedia has millions of hyperlinks to content that may or may not be authorized. If the legislation comes into force on August 1, Russian Internet users may be denied access to the whole service of Wikipedia. Wikipedia blacked out its Russian-language website in protest of the proposed law.
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