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Activists stage a protest against the law prohibiting the "propaganda of homosexuality" in St. Petersburg in November.
A leading official in the Russian Orthodox Church has called on Russian lawmakers to adopt a national law prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality among minors.

Father Dmitry Pershin, head of the church's youth council, has called for the State Duma to approve "without delay" a law that would make it a crime to promote homosexuality to people younger than 16.

His statement came after the governor of Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, signed into law a new measure calling for fines of up to $33,000 for propagating "homosexuality among minors."

Gay rights activists have protested, saying the law could be used to ban public demonstrations by Russia's embattled gay and transgender community.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, but antigay sentiments among many Russians remain strong.

With AP and Interfax reports
Belarusian authorities have arrested some Internet users and bloggers and cut off access to numerous websites. (file photo)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has added Belarus to its list of "Enemies of the Internet."

In a report issued on March 11 to mark World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, the Paris-based media watchdog said Belarusian authorities tightened their grip on the Internet over the past year to curb what it called "revolution via the social media."

The report said President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government arrested some Internet users and bloggers and cut off access to websites in response to growing discontent bolstered by an unprecedented economic crisis. It also used Twitter to send messages aimed at intimidating demonstrators.

"The Internet was blocked during the series of 'silent protests.' We saw an increase of the filtering as well, with more and more websites rendered inaccessible and some websites the victims of cyberattacks," RSF spokeswoman Lucie Morillon told RFE/RL. "Plus, there's a lot of Internet users and bloggers who were arrested. We also saw another law which took effect in early January which gives the regime more Internet surveillance and control powers."

RSF's 2012 list of "Internet Enemies" includes 12 countries, among them Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Syria.

These countries combine cybercensorship with Internet access restrictions, tracking of cyberdissidents, and online propaganda.

Bahrain Also Added

Bahrain was this year's other addition to the list of "Internet Enemies." Following protests inspired by the Arab Spring, authorities in the tiny Gulf kingdom implemented an effective news blackout that involved arresting bloggers and Internet users -- one of whom died in detention -- and disrupting communications.

The report notes that Iran announced the launch of a national Internet and helped Syria hack into social networks to collect information about users' activities as part of Damascus' bloody crackdown on protests.

Two countries, Kazakhstan and India, were also singled out for their worsening Internet freedom and placed "under surveillance."

The RSF report accused Indian authorities of stepping up Internet surveillance since the Mumbai bombings of 2008.

Kazakhstan was blamed for "turning its back on all its fine promises" made in 2010, the year it held the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

"In 2011, we saw a social protest movement that was dealt with very violently by the authorities," Morillon said. "I'm talking about the situation that happened when the oil workers' strike actually resulted in an uprising. Authorities decided to completely cut the Internet around the area, which was unprecedented. This was followed by the blocking of news websites. And in December, a decree was adopted that increased the repression and surveillance at cyber cafes, for instance."

Positive Trends Noted

Countries "under surveillance" include Egypt, Russia, Turkey, Thailand and, interestingly, France, where authorities continue to enforce stringent measures against illegal downloading and have taken recent steps to filter Internet traffic.

According to RSF, Internet freedom globally receded in 2011, largely due to crackdowns in response to the increasing use of the Internet and social networks as tools for protests.

But its "Enemies of the Internet" report did note positive trends in several countries.

In Myanmar, the military junta released some bloggers and unblocked news websites as part of an apparent thaw.

The media watchdog also welcomed a relaxing of Internet restrictions in Venezuela, where a 2011 law feared to limit Internet freedom has so far proved harmless, and in Libya, where the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi ended an era of Internet censorship.

RSF removed both countries from its list of nations "under surveillance."

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About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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