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Rights group names 'Enemies of the Internet'

Reporters Without Borders calls on IT managers to talk with companies that deal with repressive regimes.

Civil liberties group Reporters Without Borders has released its annual list of "Enemies of the Internet"--regimes the group claims restrict freedom of expression online.

A new entrant to the list is Egypt. Reporters Without Borders asserts that President Hosni Mubarak displays an "extremely disturbing authoritarianism" regarding the Internet.

"Egypt is about harsh repression--they're jailing bloggers," said Julien Pain, a representative of the group. Reporters Without Borders is protesting the arrest and detention of three bloggers in June after they called for democratic reforms.

Three countries have been taken off the list because they have relaxed Internet repression, as defined by Reporters Without Borders. Libya no longer censors the Internet or jails cyberdissidents, though the group still sees President Muammar Gaddafi as a "press-freedom predator." Nepal and the Maldives also no longer censor the Internet, the group said.

Reporters Without Borders called on IT managers and users to join an "online mobilization" that encourages participants to click once on a world map to vote for a country they believe to restrict Internet freedoms. The campaign has officially finished, but the Web page--which is apparently only in French--will be available for a "few more days," according to Pain. The protest, which began Tuesday, gathered more than 17,000 individual votes in 24 hours.

The organization also urged IT managers to talk to technology companies that deal with repressive regimes--and to resellers of those companies' products--to let them know of civil liberties concerns.

"IT managers can talk to resellers which buy Cisco (Systems) products. They should know that Cisco is collaborating with the Chinese government. I'm not saying managers should boycott Cisco, but if you have two products which are the same, at an equal price, don't buy Cisco," Pain told ZDNet UK.

Cisco supplies routers to the Chinese government that are used to maintain the "great firewall of China," which inspects Web traffic for certain keywords that the Chinese government wishes to censor, including political ideologies and groups it finds unacceptable.

Reporters Without Borders also urged IT managers to "get in touch" with Yahoo to talk about its role in the arrest and prosecution of Shi Tao, a journalist sentenced to 10 years' hard labor after Yahoo turned his e-mail records over to the Chinese authorities. IT managers could request that Yahoo relocate its Chinese mail servers, the group said.

"Operating a mail service located in China is a terrible decision," Pain said. "If the servers are in China, the police have full authority to access them."

The 13 countries presently on the Reporters Without Borders list of "Enemies of the Internet" are Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.