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Despite Obstacles, Eurasian NGOs Make Progress In Implementing Open Internet

(Washington, D.C. -- May 19, 2006) Non-governmental organizations working to promote an open and democratic Internet in Eurasia face numerous challenges, according to four Internet development experts who spoke at a recent briefing co-sponsored by RFE/RL and Internews in honor of World Press Freedom Day. Despite these challenges, the experts told the briefing audience that progress is being made in their respective countries to bring about policy reform and democratization.

Internet policy experts from Uzbekistan and Belarus spoke to the situations in their respective countries. While Uzbekistan has a wonderful freedom of information law, its implementation raises many questions, according to the Uzbekistan expert, who added that the government of Uzbek president Islam Karimov blocked many of the websites run by NGOs following the May 2005 Andijon uprising. The Karimov government was able to accomplish this by linking cooperation by Internet service providers (ISPs) with content filtering requests to the approval of operating licenses, the expert said.

The status of the Internet in Belarus was described as a "free internet in an unfree country," according to the expert on that country, who said that authorities took steps to block access to the websites of opposition candidates during the recent presidential election in Belarus. The Internet is popular among those living in urban areas in Belarus, such as Minsk, and 500,000-600,000 Belarusians are permanent users.

Parvina Ibodova, Chairman of Tajikistan's Civil Internet Policy Initiative, spoke about the situation in that country, which she argued differed from that in Uzbekistan and Belarus due to its demographics, level of development and positive actions by the Tajik government. Ibodova said that, even though many observers have labeled Tajikistan as one of the poorest countries in the world, it has surpassed its Central Asia neighbors in technology.

Romanian Association for Technology and Internet Executive Director Bogdan Manolea said that Internet development in his country is ahead of that in the other three countries discussed, with five million unique Internet visitors, 120,000 registered domain names and nine hundred ISPs. Manolea said that, by working with the Romanian government, it is now easy to start an ISP. He also noted that, while state advertising provides an indirect means of censoring traditional media, the Internet in Romania is free of such levers of government influence.

Archived audio of this briefing can be heard in RealAudio and Windows Media formats.