#imweekly: August 5, 2013

Internet Monitor 2013-08-06

Saudi Arabia Raif Badawi, founder of the website Free Saudi Liberals, faces seven years in jail and 600 lashes for “‘setting up a website that undermines general security’ and ridiculing Islamic religious figures.” The website is a public discussion forum that authorities have blocked for years; the judge in this case ordered it shut down. The government arrested Badawi in June 2012 for cybercrime and failing to obey his father, and sentenced him more than one year later, in July 2013. Badawi initially faced charges of apostasy, which would have condemned him to death.

Russia Russian blogger Anton Ilyushchenko discovered that a local nightclub had posted pictures on its website of seemingly intoxicated patrons “engaged in what appeared to be amateur striptease contests and public sex acts.” The Omsk resident posted them on his blog and criticized the nightclub. The post went viral and police began investigating him for distributing pornographic material, charges that carry a punishment of two to six years in prison. Some people said Ilyushchenko posted the pictures to generate traffic for his blog. Most who have spoken online about the case criticize the police for caring more about the image of the city and for failing to go after the nightclub where the photos originated.

Vietnam Vietnam’s prime minister approved a decree that states blogs and social media sites can only contain personal information. “Personal electronic sites are only allowed to put news owned by that person, and are not allowed to ‘quote’, ‘gather’ or summarize information from press organizations or government websites” said Hoang Vinh Bao, director of the Broadcasting and Electronic Information Department at the Ministry of Information and Communications, to local media. The decree also forbids foreign Internet service providers from sharing “information that is against Vietnam.” Facebook users in Vietnam criticized the law, asking if sharing a link was now a punishable offense and lamenting that the government showed no signs of understanding the value of an open society. Digital rights organizations have criticized the decree’s vague language. The law is set to take effect on September 1, but it is unclear how the government will enforce the rule.

China The Wikimedia Foundation is accelerating plans to enable native HTTPS for all its projects after leaked information indicated that the NSA’s XKeyscore program “specifically targeted” the site. The Chinese anti-censorship organization Greatfire took Wikipedia to task in June for dragging its feet on native HTTPS. China completely blocks HTTPS versions of Wikimedia’s projects, and Greatfire alleges that Wikipedia’s move could force the Chinese government to loosen its censorship of the site. In addition to Internet filtering and blocking, China is adding another tactic to its censorship arsenal: fact-checking. The nonprofit Beijing Internet Association is teaming up with the state-run Beijing Internet Information Office to launch a website that corrects falsehoods on the Internet. One visiting scholar at Columbia University said the site’s utility may be limited if people don’t trust the government. Amidst the government’s overarching censorship, one area will remain free. The University of Macau will become the first university on mainland China to obtain access to an uncensored Internet when it moves to its new facility on Guangdong’s Hengqin Island in January.