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Clinton report warns human rights are online too

Repression now includes the web

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An annual report by the US State Department has found dictators and repressive governments around the world are making sure they have as much control over their citizens when they're online as they do the rest of the time.

The United States annual report on human rights might include a look at internet access and censorship but its real focus is good old-fashioned torture, wrongful arrest, censorship and police brutality. Not that the US has done anything to promote or make such behaviour acceptable of course.

The report said: "Many governments applied overly broad interpretations of terrorism and emergency powers as a basis for limiting the rights of detainees and curtailing other basic human rights and humanitarian law protections."

Although investigators did look at internet access it is clear they have not drunk the Web2.0 Kool Aid. The country report for Zambia for instance is a detailed and lengthy look at individual cases of deaths in police custody, harassment of journalists, running of elections and government corruption.

The report noted that only 5.5 per cent of the Zambian population accessed the internet in 2009. But it said: "During the year the government revoked the visa of a foreign national living in Zambia who criticized a deputy minister on her blog. The government threatened to deport another foreign national who posted remarks on the Internet deemed critical of the government."

Researchers looked at 194 countries in detail. Information is collated by US embassies with help from NGOs and other researchers. There's more from the State Department here.

China hit back immediately by issuing its own report on human rights in the US. China accused the US of using human rights as a political tool to interfere with other countries. The Chinese report focused on illegal wiretapping by US spooks, the setting up of an internet monitoring body, racial discrimination and police abuses of power.

A separate report issued by Reporters Without Borders warned that countries like Burma, North Korea and Turkmenistan remain effectively offline in order to restrict citizens' access to information. It said that there was increasing action against bloggers in Azerbaijan, Iran, Morocco and China.

But the organisation also named Australia, France and the UK as western democracies which were using the fight against child sexual abuse images and file sharing to enforce repressive laws. ®

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