Governments across south-east Asia are following China’s authoritarian censorship of the digital world to keep political dissent in check, the Guardian can reveal.
Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines have all moved or are moving towards monitoring internet use, blocking international sites regarded as critical and ruthlessly silencing web dissidents.
n In Vietnam, the Communist party wants to be your “friend” on the state-run version of Facebook, provided you are willing to share all personal details.
n In Burma, political unrest can be silenced by cutting off the country from the Internet.
n In Thailand, website moderators can face decades in jail for a posted comment they did not even write, if the government deems it injurious to the monarchy.
While much is made of China’s authoritarian attitudetowards internet access, a majority of south-east Asian governments have similar controls and , rather than relaxing restrictions on internet use, many are moving towards tighter regulation.
Raymond Palatino, a Filipino MP and editor with Global Voices, says governments, in addition to crudely blocking websites, are starting to use arguments of morality and decency to censor access to information and quash criticism.
With a population of more than 600 million, south-east Asia has about 123 million Internet users. But penetration ratesvary from 0.2 per cent in Burma and Timor-Leste to more than 80 per cent in Brunei Darussalam and 77 per cent in Singapore. But south-east Asian use is still dwarfed by China’s 384 million users.