World Day Against Cyber Censorship is an online event held each year on March 12 to rally support for a single, unrestricted Internet that is accessible to all and to draw attention to the ways that governments around the world are deterring and censoring free speech online.
The annual event is symbolized by a logo created by Reporters Without Borders consisting of a computer mouse breaking free from a chain.
The day was first observed on 12 March 2008 at the request of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), a Paris-based international non-governmental organization, and Amnesty International.
A letter written by Jean-François Julliard, Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders, and Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International, was sent to the Chief Executive Officers of Google, Yahoo!, Inc., and Microsoft Corporation to request observation of the day.
On the occasion, Reporters Without Borders awards an annual Netizen Prize that recognizes an Internet user, blogger, cyber-dissident, or group who has made a notable contribution to the defense of online freedom of expression. Starting in 2010 the prize has been awarded to:
- 2010: Iranian women’s rights activists of the Change for Equality website, www.we-change.org.
- 2011: the founders of a Tunisian blogging group named Nawaat.org.
- 2012: Syrian citizen journalists and activists of the Media center of the Local Coordination Committees
- 2013: Vietnamese blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh.
- 2014: Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi.
In conjunction with World Day Against Cyber Censorship, Reporters Without Borders updates its “Enemies of the Internet” and “Countries Under Surveillance” lists.
The first list of “Enemies of the Internet” was published in 2006 which had 13 countries. It classified a country as an enemy of the internet because “all of these countries mark themselves out not just for their capacity to censor news and information online but also for their almost systematic repression of Internet users.”
In 2007 a second list of countries “Under Surveillance” (originally “Under Watch”) was added, which initially had 10 countries.
India has been on the “Enemies of the Internet” list of countries since 2014, and has remained on “Countries Under Surveillance” list during 2008 to 2013.
To mark this year’s World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is unveiling its list of press freedom’s 20 worst digital predators in 2020 – companies and government agencies that use digital technology to spy on and harass journalists and thereby jeopardize our ability to get news and information.
The 2020 list of 20 leading digital predators is divided into four categories according to the nature of their activities: harassment, state censorship, disinformation or spying and surveillance.
The 2020 list of 20 digital predators includes Modi’s Yoddhas in the harassment category.
METHODS USED: Social media insults, calls for rape and death threats
KNOWN TARGETS: Rana Ayyub, a journalist who wrote the Gujarat Files, a book about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise to power, is one of the favourite targets of the “Yoddhas” – the trolls who either volunteer their services or are paid employees of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Swati Chaturvedi, a journalist, author of the investigation I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army, is also often targeted.
The 2020 list of 20 digital predators includes Indian Ministry of Home Affairs in the state censorship category.
METHODS USED: Disconnecting the Internet
KNOWN TARGETS: It completely disconnected fixed-line and mobile Internet communication in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August 2019 – an extreme measure preventing Kashmiri journalists from working freely and depriving all of the state’s citizens of access to independently reported news and information. After six months, the government partially restored broadband connections but access to many sites remains largely uncertain. India is the country that most uses Internet shutdowns – a total of 121 in 2019.
Reporters Without Borders ranks India 140 in the World Press Freedom Index 2019, while the rank in 2018 was 138.
About the current media scenario in India, the Reporters Without Borders website states: “Violence against journalists – including police violence, attacks by Maoist fighters, and reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt politicians – is one of the most striking characteristics of the current state of press freedom in India. At least six Indian journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2018. A number of doubts surround a seventh case. These murders highlighted the many dangers Indian journalists face, especially those working for non-English-language media outlets in rural areas. Attacks against journalists by supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi increased in the run-up to general elections in the spring of 2019. Those who espouse Hindutva, the ideology that gave rise to Hindu nationalism, are trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate. The coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks against journalists who dare to speak or write about subjects that aggravate Hindutva followers are alarming and include calls for the journalists concerned to be murdered. The campaigns are particularly virulent when the targets are women. The emergence of a #MeToo movement in the media in 2018 has lifted the veil on many cases of harassment and sexual assault to which women reporters have been subjected. Criminal prosecutions are meanwhile often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment. The mere threat of such a prosecution encourages self-censorship. Finally, coverage of regions that the authorities regard as sensitive, such as Kashmir, continues to be very difficult. Foreign reporters are barred from Kashmir and the Internet is often disconnected there. When not detained, Kashmiri journalists working for local media outlets are often the targets of violence by paramilitaries acting with the central government’s tacit consent.”