The number of countries where internet users were arrested, or mistreated because of their posts, reached a new record between June 2020 and May 2021, according to a report by the US non-governmental organization “Freedom House”.
The most characteristic incidents of this period are the internet disruption in Myanmar and Belarus, but the rights of internet users have been restricted globally for the eleventh consecutive year, the NGO underlined.
In its report, “Freedom House” values the freedom enjoyed by internet users in different countries, taking into account the restrictions on internet access, or the presence of pro-government “trolls”,who try to manipulate online debates.
“This year internet users in 41 countries have been physically attacked, in retaliation for their online activity”,
emphasizes the report, pointing out that this is the highest number since it has kept data.
Among the examples cited by “Freedom House” is a student in Bangladesh who had to be hospitalized after being beaten because he was suspected of “anti-government activity” on social media. Another incident reported is that of a Mexican journalist who was murdered for posting a video on Facebook in which he accused a gang of murders.
The authors of the survey point out that in 56 of the 70 countries examined, citizens were arrested, or convicted for their online activities, a record 80%.
The military junta that seized power on February 1 in Myanmar is heavily criticized for cutting off internet access, blocking social media and forcing tech companies to hand over users’ personal data.
There were also internet outages before the elections in Uganda in January and after the controversial presidential elections in Belarus in August 2020.
In total, within a year, 20 countries blocked internet access for citizens periodically.
Iceland is at the top of the list of countries with the greatest freedom online, ahead of Estonia and Costa Rica, as it became the first country in the world to make internet access a fundamental right of its citizens.
China, on the other hand, is seen as the country that has the least respect for freedom of speech online and the one that most represses dissident users.
At a global level, the authors of the report accuse governments of exploiting the regulations of tech companies to justify repressive measures.
At the same time, they criticize countries, such as India and Turkey, for their legislation that forces social media to remove any content that is considered offensive, or may harm public order.
Moreover, anti-monopoly legislation is being drafted in many countries with the aim of limiting the influence of technological giants, such as Google, Apple and Facebook, an effort which “Freedom House” considers justified.
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