Oral Intervention by Sanja Kelly to UN Human Rights Council 17th Session | Freedom House

Oral Intervention by Sanja Kelly to UN Human Rights Council 17th Session

Testimony by Sanja Kelly, Freedom House Senior Researcher and Managing Editor, Freedom on the Net Survey on internet freedom and some of the most common obstacles, June 3, 2011

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: 

On behalf of Freedom House, I would like to congratulate the special rapporteur on his report. We are very pleased that issues of internet freedom are gaining more prominence within the Human Rights Council.

Several weeks ago, Freedom House released a 400-page assessment called Freedom on the Net, which examines the state of internet freedom in 37 countries worldwide. Our research supports the conclusions of the special rapporteur and we share the concerns about the growing threats to internet freedom by both state and non-state actors. 

While no country receives a perfect scorecard, our research shows that users in Iran, Myanmar, Cuba, and China experience the greatest restrictions on the internet, while Estonia, the United States, and Germany are among the countries that place the least restrictions in this sphere.

The key findings of our study identify a growing set of obstacles that pose a common threat to internet freedom, particularly in the following four areas:

#1 Prevalence of online blocking and filtering of politically and socially relevant content has increased. In fact, of the 37 countries examined, the governments of 15 were found to engage in substantial online blocking and filtering of such material. While China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have some of the most extensive and sophisticated censorship regimes, several democracies, such as Turkey, were also found to engage in pervasive blocking. 

#2 Cyberattacks against regime critics have intensified over the last two years. Some governments and their sympathizers are increasingly using technical attacks to disrupt activists’ online networks, eavesdrop on their communications, and cripple their websites. In Iran, for example, DDoS attacks against opposition websites during and following the 2009 elections were traced directly to government IP addresses. More recently, widespread cyberattacks against opposition websites were reported in Belarus surrounding the December 2010 elections.

#3 In about one third of the states we examined, the authorities have exploited their control over infrastructure to limit widespread access to controversial content or, in extreme cases, cut off access to the internet entirely. This is what happened in Egypt earlier this year and also in Myanmar in 2007. Instead of completely cutting off the internet, governments sometimes dramatically slow down the internet speed, making it extremely difficult to upload videos or even send an email. We saw that happening earlier this year in Bahrain, Libya, and Syria.

#4 Today, more internet users face threats, imprisonment, and financial penalties than ever before. In some countries—including China, Vietnam, and Myanmar—individuals can be sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for online activities, and allegations of torture are not uncommon.

Freedom House supports the many excellent recommendations by the special rapporteur that address these issues and hopes that they will propel tangible reform, particularly in the states that we found to be the greatest offenders in this domain. 

Thank you.