Unblocked?



Recently Google changed the IP address of its blogspot blogging service. This caused the site to become accessible in all countries that blocked the site by its IP address –including Pakistan and China. China and Pakistan did not unblock blogspot, rather it became available because of actions taken on Google’s part. Well, the new blogspot IP is now blocked in China, but it is still accessible in Pakistan.

Iran has, however, unblocked Baztab, a conservative news website. Hoder wrote about this case about a month ago:

The Iranian cultural ministry has now ordered all major ISPs to block Baztab, a news website close to moderate conservatives and linked to an influential former commander of the elite revolutionary guards. It has also demanded the website to stop its activities.

But the well-connected editors of Baztab have hit back. They have refused to stop publishing new articles, have called the order illegal and illegitimate, and have also said they are going to bring the case to court.

They have argued that it is only the judiciary has the constitutional authority to decide weather a website has violated laws. They have also disputed the legality of a set of regulations passed in the governemnt cabinet last month to be executed by the ministry of culture.

Hoder argued that “by pushing for the judiciary to take up the responsibility of internet filtering, Iranian internet users can slow down the process of filtering, hold the authorities accountable, and force them to make the behind-the-scenes process transparent.”. When I linked to this article a while back, a comment was posted which stated that “[i]n Iran it is the judiciary that has spearheaded the arrest and torture of bloggers.”

This is an interesting case. One of the recommendations of the HRW report on China is:

Create formal, well-documented and legally transparent processes by which content censorship requests are made to companies, formal written procedures by which companies can challenge or respond to censorship requests, and formal, transparent legal procedures by which members of the Chinese public can safely and fairly challenge the legality of any act of censorship without fear of reprisal.

HRW reccomends that Iran “should further seek to pass new laws that affirmatively protect the right to freely access or disseminate information or opinions and clarify the narrow circumstances in which government interference would be warranted according to international standards.”.

The unblocking of one website — one run by well connected people — is a small victory but it could be very significant. If the procedures for determining content to block become transparent, if there is an appeals process and some level of accountability I believe it becomes increasingly difficult for governments to justify censorship. I believe, as recommended by HRW, that this process needs to be accompanied by movements to affirmatively protect freedom of expression as well.

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