Week in Review: June 29, 2018

by Mary Meisenzahl

Chinese island Hainan considers allowing Internet access for tourists

On June 21, Hainan’s government released a three-year plan to boost tourism. The plan included a proposal to allow foreign tourists access to international social media websites that are blocked on the mainland. In special Internet zones, tourists would be allowed to access websites blocked by the Great Firewall, including Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. Many Chinese citizens criticized the plan, calling it “information apartheid” and arguing that it privileges Hainan over other provinces. The next day, the document with the plan was removed from the Hainan government’s website.

Ethiopia unblocks over 200 websites

Ethiopia’s government unblocked 264 websites this week, along with international radio and TV channels. The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Fitsum Arega tweeted “Freedom of expression is a foundational right that other rights depend on. #Ethiopia has opened access to 264 blocked websites/bloggers/ ESAT and OMN. A free flow of information is essential for engaged & responsible citizenry. Only a free market of ideas will lead to the truth.” This comes in the wake of other reforms under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who promised political reform and reaching out to opposition parties when he was confirmed in April. Since then, he has freed thousands of prisoners, including some opposition politicians.

Venezuela blocks access to Tor

Venezuela has blocked the Tor network on CANTV, the largest government-owned Internet service provider in the country, according to Access Now. Tor is a tool that allows users to browse the Internet anonymously. According to Tor’s metrics, traffic in Venezuela recently increased as a response of the country blocking local news outlets that could not be circumvented by other means. Venezuela has been increasing censorship efforts this year, and in April the United Nations condemned efforts to block news websites that covered anti-government protests.

Ukrainian parliament considers a bill that would expand power to block websites

Ukrainian lawmakers placed Bill No. 6688 on the parliamentary agenda, which would give the Security Service the power to block websites without a court order if it passes. On June 21, Parliament voted to consider the bill, which first appeared before Parliament in July 2017 when some members condemned it as trying to emulate Russian censorship. In its current form, the bill allows prosecutors, investigators, and the National Council for Security and Defence to demand temporary blocking of a website for 48 hours. If an Internet Service Provider does not comply they could face fines from 1% up to 5% of their annual profits. The bill was condemned in a joint statement by the Director of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and the Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in which they call the bill a violation of the Constitution of Ukraine and of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.