Grim year for Web freedom

Internet users in a record number of countries have faced arrest and physical attacks for their posts over the past year, says a report, painting a grim picture of digital freedom in 2021.

The annual “Freedom on the Net” report said Internet shutdowns in Myanmar and Belarus had proved particular low points as online rights declined globally for the 11th year in a row.

Compiled by US think-tank Freedom House, the survey gives countries a score out of 100 for the level of Internet freedom enjoyed by citizens, including the extent to which they face restrictions on the content they can access.

Other factors include whether pro-government trolls seek to manipulate online debates.

“This year, users faced physical attacks in retribution for their online activities in 41 countries,” the report said yesterday, a “record high” since the tracking started 11 years ago.

Examples included a Bangladeshi student hospitalised after a beating for alleged “anti-government activities” on social media and a Mexican journalist assassinated after posting a Facebook video accusing a gang of murder.

The report also found that people had been arrested or convicted for their online activities in 56 out of the 70 countries covered by the report – a record 80%.

They included two Egyptian influencers jailed in June for sharing TikTok videos that encouraged women to pursue careers on social media platforms.

Myanmar was singled out for heavy criticism in the report after a military junta seized power in February and shut down the internet, blocked social media and forced tech companies to hand over personal data.

Internet shutdowns were similarly used to cut communications ahead of Uganda’s elections in January and after a disputed Belarus election in August last year.

In total, at least 20 countries blocked people’s Internet access between June 2020 and May 2021, the period covered by the survey.

But it wasn’t all bad news, with The Gambia among those praised for continuing its trend of greater online freedom since dictator Yahya Jammeh was ousted in 2017.

Iceland topped the ranking, followed by Estonia and Costa Rica, the world’s first country to declare Internet access a human right. — AFP

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