YESTERDAY, THE SECLUDED Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan became a democracy for the first time after free parliamentary elections in which the political party headed by the King’s brother was crushed. The democratisation of the country means that Bhutan is slowly but surely opening up to the outside world, causing concern for Bhutan’s leaders who are quickly discovering that the freedoms of the Internet can be both a blessing and a curse.
Internet and television are still relatively new to the mountainous land of the Thunder Dragon, having been introduced only nine years ago. But it is already proving to be a thorn in the side of government officials who, although they pay lip service to wanting a free press, can’t even deal with their own media’s benign and gentle rebukes.
Head of the media department of Bhutan's Ministry of Information and Communications, Kezang, told Reuters: "We are very cautious about what content from outside might do to our society". Kezang is probably worried that the Internet would prove to be a good forum for airing opinions about two of Bhutan ’s unmentionable subjects; criticism of the monarchy and the issue of the 100,000 ethnic Nepali refugees stuck in refugee camps on the border. The refugees had been forced out of Bhutan in 1990 after protesting against discrimination and in favor of democracy.
Just last year, the Bhutanese government blocked access to a foreign hosted Web site, www.bhutantimes.com, for launching a scathing attack on a member of the royal family.
Meanwhile, in other censorship news, the Turkish government has been blocking access to Slide and its multimedia Web applications (mainly for Facebook) after a Turkish court ruled that the site allowed users to post photos and stories that insulted the Turkish republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
In Turkey it is illegal to insult "Turkishness", state institutions or Ataturk, seen as the founder of modern Turkey.
Slide can now proudly join the list of Web sites including YouTube, Facebook and MySpace that have been blocked and censored by countries including Turkey, Pakistan, Thailand and China that restrict free political speech. µ
Reuters on Bhutan
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