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Syria orders cybercafe owners to ID customers

'Iron censorship' extended

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Syria has ordered cybercafe owners to take down details of customers in an extension of its "iron censorship" of the web, according to monitoring group the Syrian Media Centre.

Proprietors are now obliged to record clients' names, ID card numbers and the time they spend online, and present the resulting data "regularly to the authorities".

The Centre's head, Mazen Darwich, told Reuters: "These steps are designed to terrorize internet users and spread fear and self censorship in violation of the right to privacy and free expression. The government has been methodical in extending the scope of its iron censorship."

The Syrian authorities have of late been flexing their muscles in cyberspace. Facebook, YouTube, Syrian opposition websites and Lebanese newspapers and Lebanese groups "opposed to what they call Syrian interference in Lebanon" are strictly off-limits to Syrian surfers.

The Syrian Media Centre claims "at least" 153 websites are blocked in Syria, "with bans expanding over the past few weeks to Googleblog and the Arab Maktoobblog". Darwich noted: "Open forums have been used by thousands of Syrians to launch a counter-offensive against the government's curbs on public expression."

The powers that be have responded by targetting outspoken individuals. Syrian human rights organizations say a poet is "facing trial... for publishing articles on a civic society forum", while "another writer spent a week in prison for an internet piece about fuel and electricity shortages".

A teacher from rural Reka province, meanwhile, is also due up before the beak for "criticising online what he described as patronage and nepotism in the state-run education system".

The government did not comment on the latest measure, but officials defended internet controls against "attempts to spread sectarian divisions" and "penetration by Israel". ®

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