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Rights groups slam interior ministers' call to close websites

CAIRO: Human rights groups have condemned a recent proposal by the Council of Arab Interior Ministers aimed at giving member governments wide scope to ban websites suspected of supporting terrorism . Activists say legislation permitting such bans will be used as an excuse to clamp down on websites not favored by authorities. This development is …


CAIRO: Human rights groups have condemned a recent proposal by the Council of Arab Interior Ministers aimed at giving member governments wide scope to ban websites suspected of supporting terrorism .

Activists say legislation permitting such bans will be used as an excuse to clamp down on websites not favored by authorities.

This development is only the latest step in a long series of restrictive measures to be recommended by the interior ministers council, said Hossam Bahgat, program director at the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal rights, one of 17 organizations to officially condemn the proposal.

The recommendation was first made by Egypt s Minister of the Interior Habib Al-Adli at the council s last meeting, held in January in Tunis. Attended by more than 15 Arab ministers, the meeting focused mainly on inter-Arab security arrangements and the so-called war on terrorism.

The conference. welcomed the proposal of the Egyptian interior minister, which apparently aims to close websites supporting terrorism or websites arguing hatred, rights groups noted in a joint statement to the press.

However, the minister did not provide any clear or identified definition for terrorism, excluding the loose definition declared in 1998, the statement added.

The council s 1998 meeting defined terrorism as any act or threat of violence, whatever its motives or purposes, that occurs in the advancement of an individual or collective criminal agenda.

At that conference, the definition of the term was expanded, making it possible to class peaceful instances of freedom of expression as terrorism, Bahgat noted.

And last year, this agreement was modified to include incitement as another reason to ban activity, Bahgat added. As a result, with new legislation aimed at the internet, many websites having absolutely nothing to do with terrorism will be subject to censorship.

The joint statement pointed out that such vague definitions offer the best opportunity for more violations of freedom of expression, noting that both the Egyptian and Tunisian governments are famous for being anti-internet and for shutting down websites without legal authority.

Signatories to the statement included the Paris-based Arab Committee on Human Rights and the Geneva-based Karama Association for Human Rights, along with numerous Egyptian civil-society groups.

While Al-Adli s recommendation was approved by the group of interior ministers, however, they have yet to be endorsed by the League of Arab States under the auspices of which the conference was held.

Officials from the Ministry of the Interior were not available for comment. IRIN

Topics: Aboul Fotouh

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