Enemies of the Internet 2010

Saudi Arabia
Domain name : .sa
Population : 28.686.633
Internet-users : 7.700.000
Average charge for one hour’s connection at a cybercafé : 2 to 4 US$
Average monthly salary : around 21 836 US$
Number of imprisoned netizens : 0
These bloggers are confronting the traditional forces of Saudi society which are attempting to prevent the Internet from becoming a forum for free discussions. A legislative arsenal is bound to intimidate netizens and promote a tendency for self-censorship.
Saudi Arabia is one of the first countries to have been authorized to write Internet domain names in Arabic. The Internet penetration rate, currently estimated at about 38% of the population, is rising. However, it is still one of the most repressive countries with regard to the Internet.
Severe filtering and denouncements
Very strict filtering targets any content of a pornographic and “morally reprehensible” nature. Websites that broach the subject of religion, human rights or positions taken by the opposition are also rendered inaccessible. Far from denying it, the authorities maintain that their censorship decisions are justified and claim to have blocked some 400,000 websites. Moreover, the Internet Services Unit explains the principle involved on its site www.isu.net.sa/saudi-internet/contenet-filtring/filtring.html. It is making available special forms which citizens can use to request the blocking or unblocking of a website.
And citizens are taking full advantage of it. The Telecommunications and Information Technologies Agency recently stated that the number of such blocking requests concerns between 700 and 1,000 sites per day, or an average of 300,000 sites “denounced” by citizens per year. A representative of the same Agency estimates that 93% of the filtered sites are pornographic in nature. The others are said to concern sites which circulate information “contrary to Kingdom values.” In a recent study, however, the Agency acknowledges that 55% of the users are worried about these site blockings and feel that the current filtering practice is excessive.
Cyber cafes under surveillance
Draconian restrictions were imposed on cyber cafes in April 2009. Since then, they have been required to install hidden cameras, supply a list of customers and websites consulted, not permit the use of prepaid cards or of unauthorized Internet links by satellite, close at midnight and not admit minors.
Their owners can face a prison sentence if their premises are used to distribute information contrary to “Kingdom values” by virtue of the new law on the use of technology which entered into force in January 2008.
This law also provides a ten-year prison term for owners of Internet websites which support terrorism and five years for those who distribute information of a pornographic nature or which is in violation of the country’s religious and social values.
Risks incurred by increasingly active netizens
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information estimates that there are about 10,000 active blogs in Arabic and in English in the country.
Bloggers who permit discussion of sensitive subjects run the risk of censors’ reprisals. In 2008, for the first time, Saudi authorities imprisoned a blogger, Fouad Al-Farhan, for having published on his blog (http://www.alfarhan.org) an article describing the “advantages” and “disadvantages” of being a Muslim. In July 2009, Syrian blogger Raafat Al-Ghanim, a resident of Saudi Arabia, was also arrested. He did not hesitate to criticize the social and political status of both countries. There has been no news of the blogger since his arrest.
Recently, participating websites have been particularly targeted by censors. The site newarabia.org, a political discussion forum, is inaccessible in the country. The blogger.com platform, which was at first totally blocked, is now the subject of a targeted censorship of its content – proof that the authorities cannot prevent bloggers from existing, either. Authorities cracked down for the first time on Saudi users of the Twitter micro-blogging website last August. The Twitter pages of two human rights activists, Khaled al-Nasser and Walid Abdelkhair, were then blocked.
The American journalist Courtney C. Radsch, who was working in Dubai for the Internet website of the Saudi information chain.Al-Arabiya, was fired in October 2009 following the posting on the Internet site of an article about safety violations by the national air carrier, Emirates Airlines. Her work permit having been revoked, she was forced to leave the country.
The Al Watan newspaper’s website was hacked into last November. The following statement was posted on the home page against a black background: “There is only one God and Mohammed is his prophet.” The newspaper is said to have come under constant attack since an article was printed criticizing certain religious leaders for having denounced the “mixed regime” in the newly built King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).
The tight control of the Internet in Saudi Arabia also reveals the government’s determination to maintain the social order – for the Net has provided a previously non-existent space in which women, who represent over half of the bloggers and two-thirds of Saudi netizens, can express their views. Women can discuss subjects online that would be taboo for them to mention in public, such as health.
http://www.gulfissues.net/: news website about Gulf states (English)
http://saudijeans.org/: blog by a student n Riyadh (English)
http://arabictadwin.maktoobblog.com/: website of the Saudi bloggers union (Arabic)
http://www.elaph.com: website on the Arab world (Arabic)