The Internet is the new frontline in the war for human rights, as governments battle to stamp out online opposition voices, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
"In an age of technology, the Internet has become the new frontier in the struggle for the right to dissent," said Amnesty International chief Irene Khan, in the foreword to the rights group’s latest annual report.
Specifically, she said governments in Belarus, China, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia are "monitoring chat rooms, deleting blogs, restricting search engines and blocking websites" with the help of major world IT firms.
In addition, "people have been imprisoned in China, Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan and Vietnam for posting and sharing information online."
But the group vowed not to back down: "Everyone has the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs without fear or interference."
In China, access has been blocked to several hundred international websites, while thousands of Chinese sites have been closed down, Amnesty said, citing a Tibetan blog shut down after having questioned Beijing’s role in Tibet.
Bloggers have been sentenced to jail terms and to beatings in Iran, where access to the Internet is increasingly strictly controlled, it said.
It accuses Vietnam of seeking to strengthen its control of the Internet via new rules, by getting managers of Internet cafes and service providers to watch users and by filtering or blocking certain websites.
It cited the example of Bloc 8406 in Vietnam, an Internet-based pro-democracy movement whose backers faced harassment, restrictions on movement and confiscation of computers.
In the Gulf state of Bahrain, seven websites were banned in October, while in Myanmar the government has blocked numerous sites, as is the case in Syria where access has been stopped to dozens of websites, Amnesty said.