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Robert Mugabe's government is trying to force Zimbabwean ISPs to block politically sensitive emails. So far ISPs claim to be resisting such moves.

The move is important because the Web has become the only uncensored source of information now that opposition newspapers and other media have been closed down.

The Zimbabwean government wants ISPs to block emails considered "politically sensitive, objectionable, unauthorised or obscene". The law also mentions "anti-national activities". ISPs must also provide government officials with information to help track down the authors.

Internet providers say it is impossible for them to police all traffic they carry and don't have the storage capacity to keep all emails sent. Even Mugabe's security staff are unlikely to have time to read all of everyone's email.

But some subscribers have already received messages explaining that an email was blocked for containing "sensitive information".

An anomymous source from a Zimbabwean ISP told the BBC it believed the proposal was illegal. He said ISPs would happily cooperate in cases of crimes such as terrorism but that is was not their job to police the Internet.

Mugabe railed against the Internet as a tool of imperialist oppressors at the end of last year. He accused Britain, Canada and the US of using the Net to: "challenge our sovereignty through hostile and malicious broadcasts calculated to foment instability and destroy the state through divisions".

Late last year the government arrested 14 people accused of forwarding or circulating an email deemed to be offensive to Mugabe.

Reporters without Borders regards Zimbabwe as by far the worst threat to press freedom in southern Africa.

Zimbabwe's phone system, once one of Africa's finest, has suffered with the rest of the country but Internet use is high. In 2002 the CIA estimated it had 100,000 Internet users.®

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