MAY 25, 2007
 (TIMES) The Internet is the new frontline in the war for human rights, as governments battle to stamp out online opposition voices, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

"In an age of technology, the Internet has become the new frontier in the struggle for the right to dissent," said Amnesty International chief Irene Khan, in the foreword to the rights group's latest annual report.

Specifically, she said governments in Belarus, China, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia are "monitoring chat rooms, deleting blogs, restricting search engines and blocking websites" with the help of major world IT firms.

In addition, "people have been imprisoned in China, Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan and Vietnam for posting and sharing information online."

But the group vowed not to back down: "Everyone has the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs without fear or interference."

In China, access has been blocked to several hundred international websites, while thousands of Chinese sites have been closed down, Amnesty said, citing a Tibetan blog shut down after having questioned Beijing's role in Tibet.

Bloggers have been sentenced to jail terms and to beatings in Iran, where access to the Internet is increasingly strictly controlled, it said.

It accuses Vietnam of seeking to strengthen its control of the Internet via new rules, by getting managers of Internet cafes and service providers to watch users and by filtering or blocking certain websites.

It cited the example of Bloc 8406 in Vietnam, an Internet-based pro-democracy movement whose backers faced harassment, restrictions on movement and confiscation of computers.

In the Gulf state of Bahrain, seven websites were banned in October, while in Myanmar the government has blocked numerous sites, as is the case in Syria where access has been stopped to dozens of websites, Amnesty said. -- AFP

South Korea to introduce Internet code of ethics

South Korea will introduce an Internet code of ethics to curb the distribution of pornographic material and other information deemed inappropriate, officials said Wednesday.

A bill will be sent to parliament for approval this year, Vice Information Communication Minister Yoo Young-hwan told a news conference.

"Our (web) portal industry has grown rapidly in the absence of regulations. Now they must take social responsibility because of their enormous influence," he said.

Local portal operators will be asked to filter out obscene, defamatory and other unwanted material. If they do not, they will be punished, he said.

There are 18 home-grown portal sites in service. Younger people are especially active in creating and uploading image files and video clips.

Experts say that, unlike text, filtering of video footage is technically difficult.

In March, a sex video clip was posted on Yahoo Korea for several hours, prompting police to launch a criminal investigation.

In response, the information ministry blocked 180 foreign websites used by South Koreans to spread obscene material on the local portals.

The Internet is also the main vehicle for teenage prostitution in South Korea.

In South Korea, one of the world's most wired countries, 34.1 million people or 70 percent of the population use the Internet. --AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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