DAMASCUS Syrian authorities have ordered
Internet cafe users to reveal their identity, the latest
measure in their "iron censorship" of cyberspace, a Syrian
monitoring group said on Thursday.
Security officials ordered Internet cafe owners this week
to take down the names and identification cards of their
clients as well as the times they come and leave, Mazen
Darwich, head of the Syrian Media Centre, told Reuters.
The records are to be presented regularly to the
authorities, who targeted bloggers and Internet writers in
recent months as part of a renewed campaign against dissent.
"These steps are designed to terrorise Internet users and
spread fear and self censorship in violation of the right to
privacy and free expression," Darwich said.
"The government has been methodical in extending the scope
of its iron censorship," he said.
There was no comment from the government. Officials had
said Internet controls were needed to guard against what they
described as attempts to spread sectarian divisions and
"penetration by Israel".
Several Internet cafes confirmed the new regulations.
Restrictions have also increased on surfing the World Wide
Web and online publishing. An increasing number of Syrians who
have voiced opinions on the Internet were being jailed, Darwich
The Syrian Media Centre, an independent body that tracks
curbs on media, said at least 153 Internet sites are blocked in
Syria with bans expanding over the past few weeks to Googleblog
and the Arab Maktoobblog.
"Open forums have been used by thousands of Syrians to
launch a counteroffensive against the government's curbs on
public expression," Darwich said.
The forums also provide a way for users to share
information on how to bypass government blocking of sites
through what is known as Internet proxies, he said.
Facebook and YouTube are already banned as well as sites
for Syrian opposition parties, Lebanese newspapers and Lebanese
groups opposed to what they call Syrian interference in
Lebanon. The site of the Saudi Asharq al-Awsat newspaper is
blocked although the daily has a correspondent in Damascus.
The government last year ordered Internet sites based in
Syria to provide the "clear identity and name" of those behind
any article or comment they publish.
A poet is facing trial at a state security course for
publishing articles on a civic society forum. Another writer
spent a week in prison for an Internet piece about fuel and
electricity shortages, Syrian human rights organisations said.
A teacher from the farming province of Reka is facing trial
for criticising online what he described as patronage and
nepotism in the state-run education system.
The Internet spread in Syria after President Bashar
al-Assad succeeded his late farther, Hafez al-Assad in 2000.
The country is ruled by the Baath Party, which took power in a
coup in 1963, imposed emergency law and banned all opposition.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)