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Civil Society Organisations and Internet Governance in Asia - Open Review

This is a book section written for the third volume (2000-2010) of the Asia Internet History series edited by Prof. Kilnam Chon. The pre-publication text of the section is being shared here to invite suggestions for addition and modification. Please share your comments via email sent to raw[at]cis-india[dot]org with 'Civil Society Organisations and Internet Governance in Asia - Comments' as the subject line. This text is published under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.


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Preparations for the World Summit on the Information Society

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) conferences organized by the United Nations in Geneva (2003) and Tunis (2005) initiated crucial platforms and networks, some temporary and some continued, for various non-governmental actors to intensively and periodically take part in the discussions of governance of Internet and various related activities towards the goals of inclusive development and human rights. Many of the civil society organizations taking part in the WSIS conferences, as well as the various regional and thematic preparatory meetings and seminars, had little prior experience in the topic of Internet governance. They were entering these conversations from various perspectives, such as local developmental interventions, human and cultural rights activism, freedom and diversity of media, and gender and social justice. With backgrounds in such forms of applied practice and theoretical frameworks, members of these civil society organizations often faced a difficult challenge in articulating their experiences, insights, positions, and suggestions in terms of the (then) emerging global discourse of Internet governance and that of information and communication technologies (ICTs) as instruments of development. At the WSIS: An Asian Response Meeting in 2002, Susanna George, (then) Executive Director of Isis International, Manila, succinctly expressed this challenge being faced by the members of civil society organizations:

For some feminist activists however, including myself, it has felt like trying to squeeze my concerns into a narrow definition of what gender concerns in ICTs are. I would like it to Cinderella’s ugly sister cutting off her toe to fit into the dainty slipper of gender concerns in ICTs. The development ball, it seems, can only accommodate some elements of what NGO activists, particularly those from the South, are concerned about in relation to new information and communications technologies. (George 2002)

The above mentioned seminar, held in Bangkok, Thailand, on November 22-24, 2002, was a crucial early meeting for the representatives from Asian civil society organizations to share and shape their understanding and positions before taking part in the global conversations during the following years. The meeting was organised by Bread for All (Switzerland), Communication Rights in the Information Society Campaign (Netherlands), Forum-Asia (Thailand), and World Association for Christian Communication (United Kingdom), as a preparatory meeting before the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference of WSIS, with 34 organizations from 16 Asian countries taking part in it. The Final Document produced at the end of this seminar was quite a remarkable one. It highlighted the simultaneity of Asia as one of the global centres of the information economy and the everyday reality of wide-spread poverty across the Asian countries, and went on to state that the first principle for the emerging global information society should be that the '[c]ommunication rights are fundamental to democracy and human development' (The World Summit on the Information Society: An Asian Response 2002). It proposed the following action items for the efforts towards a global inclusive information society: 1) strengthen community, 2) ensure access, 3) enhance the creation of appropriate content, 4) invigorate global governance, 5) uphold human rights, 6) extend the public domain, 7) protect and promote cultural and linguistic diversity, and 8) ensure public investment in infrastructure (ibid.).

Immediately after this Conference, several Asian civil society organizations attended the Asian Civil Society Forum, organised as part of the Conference of Non-governmental Organizations in Consultative Relations with the United Nations (CONGO), held in Bangkok, Thailand, during December 9-13, 2002. Representatives of Dhaka Ahsania Mission (Bangladesh), OneWorld South Asia (India), GLOCOM (Japan), Foundation for Media Alternative (Philippines), Korean Progressive Network – JINBONET (Republic of Korea), Friedrich Naumann Foundation (Singapore), International Federation of University Women (Switzerland), and Forum Asia (Regional) drafted a Joint Statement emphasising that a 'broad-based participation of civil society, especially from those communities which are excluded, marginalized and severely deprived, is critical in defining and building such a [true communicative, just and peaceful] society' (Aizu 2002). In the very next month, the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference was held in Tokyo during January 13-15, 2003, 'to develop a shared vision and common strategies for the “Information Society' (WSIS Executive Secretariat 2003: 2). The conference saw participation of representatives from 47 national governments, 22 international organizations, 54 private sector agencies, and 116 civil society organizations across the Asia-Pacific region. The Tokyo Declaration, the final document prepared at the conclusion of the Conference, recognized that:

[T]he Information Society must ... facilitate full utilization of information and communication technologies (ICT) at all levels in society and hence enable the sharing of social and economic benefits by all, by means of ubiquitous access to information networks, while preserving diversity and cultural heritage. (Ibid.: 2)

Further, it highlighted the following priority areas of action: 1) infrastructure development, 2) securing affordable, universal access to ICTs, 3) preserving linguistic and cultural diversity and promoting local content, 4) developing human resources, 5) establishing legal, regulatory and policy frameworks, 6) ensuring balance between intellectual property rights (IPR) and public interest, 7) ensuring the security of ICTs, and 8) fostering partnerships and mobilizing resources. It is not difficult to see how the focus of necessary actions shifted from an emphasis on concerns of community and human rights, and public investments and commons, towards those of legal and policy mechanisms, multi-partner delivery of services, and intellectual property rights. Civil society organizations, expectedly, felt sidelined in this Conference, and decided to issue a join statement of Asian civil society organizations to ensure that their positions are effectively presented. The first two topics mentioned in this document were: 1) '[c]ommunication rights should be fully recognized as a fundamental and universal human right to be protected and promoted in the information society,' and 2) '[t]he participation of civil society in the information society at all levels should be ensured and sustained, from policy planning to implementation, monitoring and evaluation' (UNSAJ et al 2003). The joint statement was endorsed by 30 civil society organizations: UDDIPAN (Bangladesh); COMFREL (Cambodia); ETDA (East Timor); The Hong Kong Council of Social Services (Hong Kong); Food India, IT for Change (India); Indonesian Infocom Society (Indonesia); Active Learning, CPSR, Forum for Citizens' Television and Media, JTEC, Kyoto Journal, Ritsumeikan University Media Literacy Project, UNSAJ (Japan); Computer Association Nepal, Rural Area Development Programme (Nepal); APC Women's Networking Support Programme, Foundation for Media Alternatives, ISIS International (Philippines); Citizens' Action Network, Korean Progressive Network – Jinbonet, Labor News Production, ZAK (Republic of Korea); e-Pacificka Consulting (Samoa); National University of Singapore (Singapore); Public Television Service, Taiwan Association for Human Rights (Taiwan); Asian-South Pacific Bureau for Adult Education, FORUM ASIA, and TVE Asia Pacific (Regional) (Ibid.).


Participation in the WSIS Process

The first WSIS conference was held in Geneva in December 2003. Through the processes of organizing this conference, and the second one in Tunis in November 2005, United Nations expressed a clear intention of great participation of actors from the private companies, civil society, academia, and media, along with the governmental organizations. During the first meeting of the WSIS Preparatory Committee (PrepCom-1) in Geneva, during July 1-5, 2002, the civil society organizations demanded that they should be allowed to co-shape the key topics to be discussed during the first conference (2003). There was already an Inter-Governmental Subcommittee on Contents and Themes, but no equivalent platform for the civil society organizations was available. With the approval of the Civil Society Plenary (CSP), the Civil Society Subcommittee on Content and Themes (WSIS-SCT) was instituted during PrepCom-1 (WSIS-SCT 2003b). At the second WSIS Preparatory Committee meeting (PrepCom-2) in Geneva, during February 17-28, 2003, the WSIS-SCT produced a summary of the views of its members titled 'Vision and Principles of Information and Communication Societies,' and also a one page brief titled 'Seven Musts: Priority Principles Proposed by Civil Society' to be used for lobbying purposes (Ibid.). This brief mentioned seven key principles of Internet governance identified by the civil society organization taking part in the WSIS process: (1) sustainable development, (2) democratic governance, (3) literacy, education, and research, (4) human rights, (5) global knowledge commons, (6) cultural and linguistic diversity, and (7) information security (WSIS-SCT 2003a).

Asian civil society organizations that took part in the PrepCom-2 meeting included United Nations Association of China (China); CASP - Centre for Adivasee Studies and Peace, C2N - Community Communications Network (India); ICSORC - Iranian Civil Society Organizations Resource Center (Iran); GAWF - General Arab Women Federation (Iraq); Daisy Consortium, GLOCOM - Center for Global Communications (Japan); Association for Progressive Communication, Global Knowledge Partnership (Malaysia); Pakistan Christian Peace Foundation (Pakistan); WFEO - World Federation of Engineering Organization (Palestine); Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education, Foundation for Media Alternatives, ISIS International – Manila (Philippines); Korean Progressive Network - Jinbonet (Republic of Korea); IIROSA - International Islamic Relief Organization (Saudi Arabia); and Taking IT Global (India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Turkey) (ITU 2003a).

All these efforts led to development of the Civil Society Declaration to the World Summit on the Information Society, which was prepared and published by the Civil Society Plenary at the Geneva conference, on December 08, 2003. The Declaration was titled 'Shaping Information Societies for Human Needs' (WSIS Civil Society Plenary 2003). The Asian civil society organization that took part in the Geneva conference were BFES - Bangladesh Friendship Education Society, Drik, ICTDPB - Information & Communication Technology Development Program, Proshika - A Center for Human Development (Bangladesh); China Society for Promotion of the Guangcai Programme, Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, United Nations Association of China (China); The Hong Kong Council of Social Service (Hong Kong); CASP - Centre for Adivasee Studies and Peace, Childline India Foundation / Child Helpline International, DAWN - Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (India); Communication Network of Women's NGOs in Iran, Green front of Iran, ICTRC - Iranian Civil Society Organizations Training and Research Center, Islamic Women's Institute of Iran, Institute for Women's Studies and Research, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence (Iran); ILAM - Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel (Israel); Citizen Digital Solutions, Forum for Citizens' Television and Media, GLOCOM - Center for Global Communications, JCAFE - Japan Computer Access for Empowerment, Soka Gakkai International (Japan); LAD-Nepal - Literary Academy for Dalit of Nepal (Nepal); Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, Global Knowledge Partnership (Malaysia); PAK Educational Society / Pakistan Development Network, SMEDA - Small & Medium Enterprise Development Authority (Pakistan); Palestine IT Association of Companies (Palestine); Isis International – Manila, Ugnayan ng Kababaihan sa Pulitika / Philippine Women's Network in Politics and Governance (Philippines); Citizen's Alliance for Consumer Protection of Korea, Korean Civil Society Network for WSIS (Republic of Korea); Youth Challenge (Singapore); Association for Progressive Communications (India and Philippines), CITYNET - Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements (India. Mongolia, and Philippines), Taking IT Global (India and Philippines) (ITU 2003b).

As the preparatory meetings and consultations towards the second WSIS conference advanced during the next year, the Asian civil society organizations attempted to engage more directly with the global Internet governance processes on one hand, and the national Internet and ICT policy situations on the other. Writing about their encounters at and before the second Preparatory Committee meeting of the Tunis conference, held in Geneva during February 17-25, 2005, Anita Gurumurthy and Parminder Jeet Singh made several early observations that have continued to resonate with the experiences of Asian civil society organizations throughout the decade (Gurumurthy & Singh 2005). Firstly, they indicated that the government agencies present in the dialogues tend to take diverging positions in international events and domestic contexts. Secondly, there was a marked absence of formal and informal discussions between the governmental and the civil society representatives of the same country present at the meeting. The government agencies were clearly disinterested in involving civil society organizations in the process. Thirdly, the civil society actors present in the meeting were mostly from the ICT for Development sector, and the organizations working in more 'traditional' sectors – such as education, health, governance reform, etc. – remained absent from the conversations. This is especially problematic in the case of such developing countries where there does not exist strategic linkages between civil society organizaions focusing on topics of technologized developmental interventions, and those involved in more 'traditional' development practices. Rekha Jain, in a separate report on the Indian experience of participating in the WSIS process, re-iterates some of these points (Jain 2006). She notes that '[w]hile the Secretary, [Department of Telecommunications, Government of India] was involved in (PrepCom-1) drafting the initial processes for involvement of NGOs, at the national level, this mechanism was not translated in to a process for involving the civil society or media' (Ibid.: 14).

The frequent lack of interest of national governments, especially in the Asian countries, to engage with civil society organizations on matters of policies and projects in Internet governance and ICTs for development (Souter 2007), further encouraged these organization to utilise the global discussion space opened up by the WSIS process to drive the agendas of democratisation of Internet governance processes, and protection and advancement of human rights and social justice. The second WSIS conference held in Tunis, during November 16-18, 2005, however, did not end in a positive note for the civil society organizations as a whole. The sentiment is aptly captured in the title of the Civil Society Statement issued after the Tunis Conference: 'Much more could have been achieved' (WSIS Civil Society Plenary 2005). Apart from producing this very important critical response to the WSIS process, within a month of its conclusions, the civil society organization contributed effectively in one of the more longer-term impacts of the process – the establishment of the Internet Governance Forums (IGFs). Immediately after the publication of the Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance (Desai et al) in June 2005, the Center for Global Communications (GLOCOM), Japan, acting on behalf of the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus, came forward with public support for 'the establishment of a new forum to address the broad agenda of Internet governance issues, provided it is truly global, inclusive, and multi-stakeholder in composition allowing all stakeholders from all sectors to participate as equal peers' (WSIS Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus 2005: 3).


Asian Civil Society Organizations at the IGFs

In 2006, the WSIS Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus was reformed and established as a permanent 'forum for discussion, advocacy, action, and for representation of civil society contributions in Internet governance processes' (Civil Society Internet Government Caucus 2006). Representatives from Asian civil society organizations have consistently played critical roles in the functionings of this Caucus. Youn Jung Park of the Department of Technology and Society, SUNY Korea, co-founded and co-coordined the original Caucus in 2003. Adam Peake of the Center for Global Communications (GLOCOM), International University of Japan, was co-coordinator of the original Caucus from 2003 to 2006. Parminder Jeet Sing of IT for Change, India, was elected as one of the co-cordinators of the newly reformed Caucus in 2006, with the term ending in 2008. Izumi Aizu of the Institute for HyperNetwork Society and the Institute for InfoSocinomics, Tama University, Japan served as the co-coordinator of the Caucus during 2010-2012.

The first Internet Governance Forum organized in Athens, October 30 – November 2, 2006, saw participation from a very few Asian civil society organizations, mostly from Bangladesh and Japan (IGF 2006). The second Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro, November 12-15, 2007 had a wider representation from Asian civil society organizations: Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication, BFES - Bangladesh Friendship Education Society, VOICE – Voices for Interactive Choice and Empowerment (Bangladesh); China Association for Science and Technology, Internet Society of China (China); University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong); Alternative Law Forum (via Association for Progressive Communications - Women's Networking Support Programme), Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, IT for Change (India); GLOCOM, Kumon Center, Tama University (Japan); Sustainable Development Networking Programme (Jordan); Kuwait Information Technology Society (Kuwait); Assocation of Computer Engineers – Nepal, Rural Area Development Programme, Nepal Rural Information Technology Development Society (Nepal); Bytesforall – APC / Pakistan, Pakistan Christian Peace Foundation (Pakistan); Foundation for Media Alternatives, Philippine Resources for Sustainable Development Inc. (Philippines); and LIRNEasia (Sri Lanka). At the Open IGF Consultations in Geneva, on February 26 2008, the Internet Governance Caucus made two significant submissions: 1) that, although structuring the IGF sessions in Athens and Rio de Janeiro around the large themes of access, openness, diversity, and security have been useful to open up the multi-stakeholder dialogues, it is necessary to begin focused discussions of specific public policy issues to take the IGF process forward (Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus 2008a), and 2) that the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), which drives the IGF process and events, should be made more proactive and transparent, and expanded in size so as to better include the different stakeholder groups who may self-identify their representatives for the MAG (Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus 2008b).

On one hand, the IGF Hyderabad, December 3-6, 2008, experienced a decline in the percentage of participants from civil society organizations and a rather modest increase in the percentage of participants from Asian countries (see: 6.1.5. Annexe – Tables), especially since this was the first major international Internet governance summit held in an Asian country. On the other hand, the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus succeeded to bring forth the term 'enhanced cooperation,' as mentioned in the Tunis Agenda, to be addressed and discussed in one of the main sessions of the Forum (IGF 2008). The next IGF held in Sharm El Sheikh, November 15-18, 2009, saw further decline of participation from both the representatives of civil society organizations, and the attendees from Asian countries (see: 6.1.5. Annexe – Tables). In this context, Youn Jung Park made the following statement in the Stock Taking session of the summit:

As a cofounder of WSIS Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus in 2003, I would like to remind you ... [that] Internet Governance Forum was created as a compromise between those who supported the status quo Internet governance institution under one nation's status provision, and those who requested for more balanced roles for governments under international supervision of the Internet. While IGF has achieved a great success of diluting of such political tension between those who have different views of how to institutionalize Internet governance, ironically Internet governance forum became a forum without governance... [We] have to admit [that] IGF failed to deliver another mandate of the U.N. WSIS: Continuing discussion of how to design Internet governance institutions... The current IGF continues to function as knowledge transfer of ICANN's values to other stakeholders, while those who want to discuss and negotiate on how to design Internet governance institutions should have another platform for that specific U.N. WSIS mandate. (IGF 2009)

The first Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) was held in Hong Kong on June 14-16, 2010. The organising committee included three civil society / acadmic organizations – Center for Global Communications (GLOCOM), Internet Society Hong Kong, and National University of Singapore – and three indpendent experts – Kuo-Wei Wu (Taiwan), Norbert Klein (Cambodia), and Zahid Jamil (Pakistan). Though the Forum had dominant presence from government and private sector participants, several representatives from Asian civil society / academic organizations spoke at the sessions: Ang Peng Hwa (Singapore Internet Research Centre, Nanyang Technological University), Charles Mok (Internet Society Hong Kong), Christine Loh (Civic Exchange), Chong Chan Yau (Hong Kong Blind Union), Clarence Tsang (Christian Action), Ilya Eric Lee (Taiwan E-Learning and Digital Archives Program, and Research Center for Information Technology Innovation), Izumi Aizu (Institute for HyperNetwork Society, and Institute for InfoSocinomics, Kumon Center, Tama University), Oliver “Blogie” Robillo (Mindanao Bloggers Community), Parminder Jeet Singh (IT for Change), Priscilla Lui (Against Child Abuse in Hong Kong), Tan Tin Wee (Centre for Internet Research, National University of Singapore), and Yap Swee Seng (Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development). As Ang Peng Hwa noted at the beginning of the summit, its key objective was to provide a formal space for various stakeholders from the Asia-Pacific region to discuss and provide inputs to the IGF process (APrIGF 2010). The regional forum was successful in enabling newer civil society entrants from the Asia-Pacific region to familiarize themselves with the IGF process, and to contribute to it. Oliver “Blogie” Robillo, represented and submit recommendations from Southeast Asian civil society organizations at IGF Vilnius, September 14-17, 2010, which was the first time he took part in the summit series. He emphasised the following topics: 1) openness and freedom of expression are the basis of democracy, and state-driven censorship of Internet in the region is an immediate threat to such global rights, 2) coordinated international efforts need to address and resolve not only global digital divides, but also the divides at regional, national, and sub-nationals scales, 3) the right to privacy is an integral part of cybersecurity, as well as a necessary condition for exercising human rights, 4) global Internet governance efforts must ensure that national governments do not control and restrict abilities of citizens to express through digital means, and it should be aligned with the universal human rights agenda, and 5) even after 5 years of the IGF process, a wider participation of civil society organizations, especially from the Asia-Pacific regions, remains an unachieved goal, which can only be achived if specific resources are allocated and processes are implemented (IGF 2010).


Internet Censorship and Civil Society Responses

Throughout the decade of 2000-2010, censorship of Internet and restriction of digital expression remained a crucial Internet rights concern across the world, and especially the Asian countries. One of the earliest global reports on the matter was brought out by the Reporters without Borders. In 2006, it published a list of countries marked as 'Internet Enemies' that featured 16 countries, out of which 11 were from Asia: China, Iran, Maldives, Myanmar (then, Burma), Nepal, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam (Reporters without Borders 2006). The list was updated in 2007, and three of these countries – Libya, Maldives, and Nepal – were taken off (Ibid.). The unique contradictions of the Asian region were sharply foregrounded in the 2006-07 report on Internet censorship by OpenNet Initiative, which noted:

Some of the most and least connected countries in the world are located in Asia: Japan, South Korea, and Singapore all have Internet penetration rates of over 65 percent, while Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Nepal remain three of thirty countries with less than 1 percent of its citizens online. Among the countries in the world with the most restricted access, North Korea allows only a small community of elites and foreigners online. Most users must rely on Chinese service providers for connectivity, while the limited number North Korean–sponsored Web sites are hosted abroad... [T]hough India’s Internet community is the fifth largest in the world, users amounted to only about 4 percent of the country’s population in 2005. Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Nepal are among the world’s least-developed countries. Despite the constraints on resources and serious developmental and political challenges, however, citizens are showing steadily increasing demand for Internet services such as Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP), blogging, and chat. (Wang 2007)

The report further described the strategy used by various Asian governments of 'delegation of policing and monitoring responsibilities to ISPs, content providers, private corporations, and users themselves' (Ibid.) These mechanisms enforce self-surveillance and self-censorship in the face of threats of loss of commercial license, denial of services, and even criminal liability. Defamation suits and related civil and criminal liability have also been used by several Asian governments to silence influential critics and protesters. Direct technical filtering of Internet traffic (especially inwards traffic) and blocking of URLS via government directives sent to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have also been common practice in key Asian countries (Ibid.). Expectedly, such experiences of oppression led to widespread campaigns and communications by the Asian civil society organizations, as can be sensed from the above mentioned submission by Oliver “Blogie” Robillo at IGF Vilnius.

Among the Asian countries, the comprehensive technologies of censorship developed and deployed by China has been studied most extensively. The Golden Shield Project was initiated by the Ministry of Public Security of China in 1998 to undertake blanket blocking of incoming Internet traffic based on specific URLs and terms. Evidences of the project getting operationalised became available in 2003 (Garden Networks for Freedom of Information 2004). Censorship of Internet in China, however, has not only been dependent on such sophisticated systems. In 2003, it was made mandatory for all residents of Lhasa, Tibet, to use a specific combination and password to access Internet, which was directly linked to their names and address. An Internet ID Card was issued by the government to implement this (International Campaign for Tibet. 2004). Tibet Action Institute has been a key civil society organization at the forefront of cyber-offensive of the Chinese government. A recent documentary by the Institute, titled 'Tibet: Frontline of the New Cyberwar,' has narrated how it has worked closely with the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, to identify, trace, and resist the malware- and other cyber-attacks experienced by the civil society actors and websites in favor of independence of Tibet (Tibet Action Institute 2015). Not only activists supporting the Tibetan cause, digital security training emerged as an important aspect of the life of civil society organizations during the decade. Asian organizations like Bytes for All (Pakistan) and Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (Mynamar), as well as international organizations like Front Line Defenders and Citizen Lab have educated and supported civil society activities much beyond the Internet governance sphere with tools and techniques for effectively using digital channels of communications, and defending themselves for cyber-threats.

Combination of traditional forms of civil society mobilizations and digital techniques have often been used resist attempts by Asian governments to control the online communication space. Huma Yusuf has extensively studied the emergence of hybrid media strategies, using both old media channels like newspapers and new media channels like blogs and video sharing platforms, among citizen journalists and civil society activists in Pakistan as the government took harsh steps towards control of both traditional and online media during 2007-2008 (Yusuf 2009). She has carefully traced how possibilities of new forms of information and media sharing enabled by Internet were initially identified and implemented by citizen journalists and student activists, which was quickly learned and re-deployed by more formal organisation, such as print and electronic news companies, and civil society organizations like those involved in election monitoring (Ibid.). Malaysia also experienced fast-accelerating face-off between the government and the civil society during 2007-2010, as the former started intervening directly into censoring blogs and newspaper websites. On one hand, the government took legal actions against critical bloggers, either directly or indirectly, and on the other it instructed ISPs to block 'offensive content.' It also borrowed the 'Singapore-model' to mandate registration of bloggers with government authorities, if they are identifed as writing on socio-political topics. The civil society actors responded to these oppressive steps by setting up a new blog dedicated to coverage of the defamation cases (filed against prominent bloggers), and publicly sharing instructions for circumvention of the blocks imposed by ISPs. The National Alliance of Bloggers was soon formed, which organised the “Blogs and Digital Democracy” forum on October 3, 2007 (Thien 2011: 46-47). Similarly, Bloggers Against Censorship campaign took shape in India in 2006 as the government first directed ISPs to block specific blogs hosted on Blogspot, TypePad, and Yahoo! Geocities, and then went for complete blocking of Yahoo! Geocities as the ISPs failed to block specific sub-domains of the platform (Bloggers Collective Group 2006). Learning from this experience, the following year Indian government decided to work directly with Orkut to take down 'defamatory content' about a politician (The Economic Times 2007). This is common for other Asian governments too, as they have continued to develop more legally binding and technically sophisticated measures to monitor and control online expression.

In the 'Internet Enemies Report 2012,' Reporters without Borders listed 12 countries as 'enemies of the Internet,' out of which 10 were from Asia – Bahrain, China, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam – and it named 14 countries that are conducting surveillance on its citizens, out of which 7 were from Asia – India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and United Arab Emirates (Reporters without Borders 2012). At the APrIGF held in Tokyo, July 18-20, 2012, a group of delegates from civil society organizations working in the South-East Asian region issued a joint statement with a clear call for global action against the shrinking space for freedom of (digital) expression in the region (Thai Netizen Network et al 2012). They specifically noted the following national acts as examples of the legislative mechanisms being used by different Asian governments to criminalize online speech and/or to harass public dissenters:

Burma – The 2004 Electronic Transactions Act
Cambodia – The 2012 Draft Cyber-Law, the 1995 Press Law, and the 2010 Penal Code
Malaysia – The 2012 Amendment to the Evidence Act and the 2011 Computing Professionals Bill
Indonesia – The 2008 Law on Information and Electronic Transaction and the 2008 Law on Pornography
The Philippines – The 2012 Data Privacy Act
Thailand – The 2007 Computer Crimes Act, the Article 112 of the Penal Code, and the 2004 Special Case Investigation Act
Vietnam – The 1999 Penal Code, the 2004 Publishing Law, the 2000 State Secrets Protection Ordinance, and the 2012 Draft Decree on Internet Management. (Ibid.)

The statement was co-signed by Thai Netizen Network, Thai Media Policy Centre, The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Southeast Asian Centre for e-Media (SEACeM), Victorius (Ndaru) Eps, Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), Sovathana (Nana) Neang, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), and was endorsed by ICT Watch (Indonesian ICT Partnership Association).


Annexe – Tables

Table 1: Participation from Asian Countries and of representatives from Asian civil society organisations in IGFs, 2006-2010

Event Participants from Asian Countries Participants from Civil Society Organizations
IGF Athens 2006 11% 29%
IGF Rio de Janeiro 2007 13% 32%
IGF Hyderabad 2008 56% from India, and 15% from other Asian countries 25%
IGF Sharm El Sheikh 2009 17% 19%
IGF Vilnius 2010 Not Available Not Available

Source: Reports available on Internet Governance Forum website (

Table 2: Internet Society Chapters in Asia

Chapter Year of Establishment URL
Afghanistan In formation Not available
Bahrain 2001
Bangladesh 2011
Hong Kong 2005
India (Bangalore) 2010
India (Chennai) 2007
India (Delhi) 2002. Rejuvenated in 2008.
India (Kolkata) 2009
India (Trivandrum) 2015 Not available
Indonesia 2014
Israel 1995
Japan 1994
Lebanon 2010
Malaysia 2010
Nepal 2007
Pakistan (Islamabad) 2013
Palestine 2002
Philippines 1999. Rejuvenated in 2009.
Qatar 2011
Republic of Korea 2014 Not available
Singapore 2011
Sri Lanka 2010
Taipei 1996
Thailand 1996
United Arab Emirates 2007
Yemen 2013

Source: Details of chapters available on Internet Society website (



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Sumandro Chattapadhyay

As a Director at CIS, I co-lead the researchers@work programme, and engage with academic and policy research on data governance and digital economy. I can be reached at sumandro[at]cis-india[dot]org.