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Middle East Censorship News

2010: July-Sept

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29th September   

Undermining Kuwait...

Book banners at the Kuwait book fair
Link Here

Kuwait's information ministry dismissed criticism from liberal MPs for banning books from a fair due next month while Islamists praised the move.

The ministry said in a statement that its censorship committee has banned only 25 titles out of 24,000 books for abusing God, prophets and other religious figures, books on pornography and others undermining Kuwait.

It provided no other details on the books or the authors banned from displaying their works at the book fair which will run from October 13 to 23.

Liberal MPs and civil society groups charged that the government was attempting to stiffle freedom of speech and thought.

Barring books from the Kuwait book fair is a breach of the constitution, which does not apply restrictions on the freedom of speech, liberal MP Saleh al-Mulla said in a statement.

But Islamist MPs praised the measure saying it is obligatory for the information ministry to ban books that abuse God and other religious figures.

Banning books that abuse God, prophets and Kuwait is mandatory for the government and it will be held accountable if it fails to do so, Salafi Islamist MP Waleed al-Tabtabai said in a statement.

The ministry's statement came as several Kuwaiti and Egyptian newspapers carried reports in recent days saying that works by prominent Egyptian authors have been banned from the Kuwait book fair.

Among those banned were books by Alaa al-Aswany, author of the acclaimed novel The Yacoubian Building which has been translated into several languages and made into a film. Books by author Gamal al-Gitani, regarded as the best student of the late Naguib Mahfouz, who won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature, have also been banned.


29th September   

Update: Licensed to Blog...

Saudi ministry suggests that bloggers will have to register
Link Here

The Ministry of Culture & Information spokesman Abdul Rahman Al-Hazzaa did a quick volte-face after saying that bloggers and Web forums in Saudi Arabia would have to register themselves under a proposed new electronic media law.

Earlier that same morning, Al-Hazzaa told Al-Arabiya channel that electronic publishing would be included in the publication and printing bylaws applied in the Kingdom. He added that blogs and online forums would be included in this ruling. Approval has been given to provide the ministry with the power to view any case related to blogs and online forums, he said, adding that online media would be treated the same as the print media.

The remarks sparked a storm among Saudi online users, leading to a further statement from Al-Hazzaa who said the new law would require online news sites to be licensed, but would only encourage bloggers and others to register.

We do not want to license them. There are so many we cannot control them, he said of the thousands of Saudi bloggers and online forum operators. He claimed that his remarks on Al-Arabiya had been taken out of context, but stressed it would not be compulsory to be registered. It's not required, no; it's not in the plan, he told AFP.

He said there were more than 100 news websites and that licensing them would permit their reporters to take part in regular media activities alongside the traditional media.

In the interview, Al-Hazzaa had said that the new regulations being finalized are mainly to give his department supervisory authority over electronic media, as it has over traditional print and broadcast media and publishing houses in Saudi Arabia.


25th September   

Stacks of Book Censors...

Iran plans to create another book censor
Link Here

Iranian Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini has announced plans to create a new five-person board that will approve the content of all books prior to publication, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Hosseini said that the new board would be similar to Iran's Press Supervisory Board, and its members would decide which books can be published.

The five board members will be appointed by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution.

Faraj Sarkouhi, a prominent writer and journalist living in exile, told RFE/RL that it appears that the five members of the new board are going to be in charge of supervising book censorship. He added that censorship by the Culture Ministry, without whose approval nothing is published in Iran, had no legal basis. Even according to the laws of the Islamic republic, censorship is illegal, he said.

The Office to Examine Books, which is subordinate to the Culture Ministry, was responsible for censoring books, Sarkouhi said, but with the establishment of the five-member board, another institution, too, will be in charge of censorship in Iran.


10th September   

Censorship Mafia...

UAE bans the video game Mafia II
Link Here

The United Arab Emirates' National Media Council has banned the release of Take-Two Interactive's Mafia II videogame in that country.

Nitin Mathew, of the Dubai-based distribution firm Red Entertainment Distribution said that the game was banned because of its excessive violence and nudity.

Mafia II was going to be released at the end of August, but now it will share the same fate as its predecessor Mafia , which was also banished from the UAE.


9th September   

Hanging by a Thread...

Political satire proves brave and popular in Palestine
Link Here

Palestinian TV viewers are dropping everything to watch local politicians sent up in nightly sketch show

The Palestinian TV satire Watan ala Watar tackles controversial issues such as politics, corruption, nepotism and religion.

Political rivals Hamas and Fatah are united in anger. But the bite-sized nightly satirical sketches of Watan ala Watar have become a Ramadan sensation, cheering thousands of Palestinian television viewers through the holy month.

Watan ala Watar the title roughly translates as country hanging by a thread has been broadcast every night since Ramadan began on 11 August.

We put issues under the spotlight, and when you make people laugh you reach them, says the show's star and scriptwriter, Imad Farajin: We touch traditionally taboo issues. There have been discussions about whether to show some episodes, but none have actually been omitted. Sometimes we ourselves feel we have gone too far, especially with religion .

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was approached by critics demanding the show be taken off the air, according to the Watan ala Watar team. But Yasser Abed Rabbo, a veteran Palestinian politician, defended it, says Farajin. He told the president that we live in a democratic society and that we shouldn't be stopped.

The programme reaches beyond the Palestinian territories, thanks to its appearance on YouTube within an hour of being broadcast, and a Facebook page.


5th September   

Press Pressure...

Jordan backs off from most repressive parts of new cyber crime law
Link Here

Jordanian journalists succeeded this week in turning back some of the most repressive aspects of a new law on cyber crimes.

The initial version of the law, approved by the cabinet of ministers on August 3, included broad restrictions on material deemed by the state to be defamatory or to involve national security. It also allowed law enforcement officials to conduct warrantless searches of online outlets.

Facing domestic protests and international pressure from CPJ and others, the cabinet revised the measure on Sunday. The government said it had deleted one of the most contentious provisions, Article 8, which vaguely barred the sending or posting data or information via the Internet or any information system that involves defamation or contempt or slander. Online journalists saw the article as an invitation to harass journalists who post critical articles.

The cabinet also deleted a worrisome clause in Article 12 that banned spreading ideas affecting national security or foreign relations of the Kingdom, as well as public safety or the national economy.

The revised measure still imposes restrictions on national security reporting online, although it sets more precise boundaries: Websites may not publish data or information not available to the public, concerning national security or foreign relations of the kingdom, public safety or the national economy.

The cabinet backed off warrantless searches as well. Its revised version requires law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant from a public prosecutor or court in order to search an online outlet. It also requires police to provide evidence of a crime.

On Monday, the state-funded National Centre for Human Rights and the head of the Jordanian Bar Association welcomed changes to the law. Both groups had been critical of the initial version.


3rd September   

Secret Detentions...

Bahrain detains 159 opposition activists and then bans the press from reporting this
Link Here

Bahrainian prosecutors have banned journalists from reporting on the detentions of dozens of opposition activists, according to news accounts. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities to lift the censorship order immediately.

Authorities detained Shiite opposition activists in a series of arrests. The New York Times reported that as many as 159 people had been detained, and that later detainees included people not known as activists. The detainees include Abduljalil Alsingace, a blogger who has been critical of the government and who tracks human rights issues for the opposition Haq Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy.

In a statement published Friday in all Bahraini newspapers, Al-Buainain banned print, radio, TV, Internet, and other media from publishing or broadcasting any news related to the case of Alsingace and the other detainees. The statement said ongoing investigations require secrecy in order to uncover the truth and preserve public order. Violations are subject to penalties of one year in prison.

The authorities in Bahrain cannot cite operational secrecy as pretext for barring domestic coverage of a crackdown that has already been widely reported by the foreign media, said Robert Mahoney, deputy director of CPJ. The people of Bahrain have a right to know if their government is detaining scores of their fellow citizens and the media have a duty to report it. This gag order must be lifted immediately.

Update: Global Voices Advocacy author arrested

7th September 2010. See  article from

Ali Abdulemam, a leading Bahraini blogger and Global Voices Advocacy author, was arrested earlier today by the Bahraini authorities for allegedly spreading false news on portal, one of the most popular pro-democracy outlets in Bahrain.

The BahrainOnline portal is censored in Bahrain. He sent an email earlier mentioning that he got a call from the Bahraini national security just before his arrest, then arrested him and alleged that he was trying to flee.


1st September   

Snoops in your Face...

Facebook monitoring in Egypt
Link Here

On 1st July, 2010, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior (MOI) has reportedly established a special department to monitor Facebook activities and content in Egypt according to the administrative decision 765.

The main task of this group is to monitor Facebook content like groups, pages and chat and to publish reports countering online criticism of current Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak or his son Gamal.

There is team of 45 members in Egypt who are monitoring the activities of Egypt's 3.8 million Facebook users as well as the monitoring of e-mail .

An anonymous security source mentioned to the Aljarida newspaper that Egyptian security authorities used to censor Facebook among other websites but the MOI paid special attention to Facebook in 2008 after the first call for 6 April Strike that was organized on Facebook.

The anonymous source mentioned to the newspaper that there are groups of paid young Egyptians from the National Democratic Party (NDP) youth, to defense the NDP and the government. According to the same source they have already created 166 Facebook group in support of president's son Gamal Mubarak and 38 other groups supporting his father, resident Hosni Mubarak.


25th August   

Update: Opposite to Freedom...

Iran bans mention of opposition leaders in the press
Link Here
Full story: Press Freedom in Iran...As if there were any

Iranian newspapers have been banned from publishing the names or photos of the leaders of Iran's green movement, according to a confidential governmental ruling revealed by an opposition website.

The ruling, issued by Iran's ministry of culture and Islamic guidance on 18 August, was stamped top secret and urgent . It was addressed to the editors of newspapers and news agencies in Iran, and bans them from publishing any news about the defeated presidential candidates in last summer's disputed election and current opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, and the former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami.

The opposition website has published a copy of the letter, which reads: Keeping the society and the public opinion calm is the main responsibility of the media. Security officials have considerations about publishing news, photos and speeches of Mr Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami, therefore according to the clause 2 of the article 5 of the press code publishing news, photos and reports about the these people are prohibited.

An Iranian journalist who works for a government paper, and asked not to be identified, told the Guardian: Soon after the election last year, those papers which insisted on publishing news or reports about the opposition leaders were all closed down , so after a while an unwritten ruling overshadowed the media in Iran. Self-censorship meant no journalist even dared to utter the names of the opposition leaders to their editors, let alone publishing any news about them.

Last week, Iran also closed down Asia, a financial newspaper and suspended the permission for publication of two magazines, Sepidar and Parastoo. Since the disputed election in June, Iran has shut eight newspapers, including Etemaad, Iran's most prominent reformist paper, and has imprisoned more than 100 journalists and bloggers. Almost all opposition newspapers are closed down and access to their websites is blocked.


18th August   

Legislative Arsenal...

Repressive new internet crimes law in Jordan
Link Here

Reporters Without Borders is worried by a provisional cyber crimes law that Jordan's government decreed on 3 August and calls for its repeal. By establishing a legal framework for news and information websites and specifying sanctions for violators, it has created a legislative arsenal that can be used to regulate the Internet and punish those whose posts upset the authorities.

The penalties, which range from fines to forced labor, depend on the content posted. The authorities have invoked the need to defend the public interest and regulate the online chaos but website owners and online journalists regard the law as a threat to the freedom of the media and communications.

The lack of detail in certain of the new law's provisions, the vague concepts used to define offenses and the disproportionate penalties open the door to restrictive and arbitrary interpretation that will restrict freedom of expression and information, Reporters Without Borders said.

Article 3 of the law stipulates that the authorities must be notified of what is posted online line but it does not say how or where they should be notified. Failure to comply with this article is punishable by a fine.

The law also establishes a range of sanctions for online content that is deemed to defame or to violate public decency or national security. The penalties for violating public decency are likely to restrict freedom of information by being applied to innocuous content. Articles 9, 10 and 11 are supposed to target content that is immoral or pornographic or content that promotes prostitution or terrorism. The sanctions range from fines of 300 to 5,000 dinars (316 to 5,265 euros) to jail sentences of 3 months to 1 year, with the possibility of forced labor.

Other articles are just as disturbing. Article 8 stipulates that the posting of any defamatory or insulting comment is publishable by fines ranging from 100 to 2,000 dinars (105 to 2,100 euros). Journalists fear that this will result in more defamation prosecutions and will complicate the work of reporting.

Article 12 says that the posting of hitherto unpublished information affecting Jordan's national security, foreign relations, public order or economy is punishable by a fine of 500 to 5,000 dinars (527 to 5,265 euros) and a minimum of four months in prison. This ban on posting confidential information will necessarily limit freedom of information. This government attempt to limit coverage of sensitive issues poses a major threat to investigative journalism.

Article 13 gives the attorney-general unlimited power to issue the police with a warrant to search the home of anyone suspected of violating this law. It also authorizes police officers to carry out a search on their own initiative by referring to the attorney-general.


12th August   

Inappropriate Censorship...

Egyptian TV to suffer even more TV censorship for Ramadan
Link Here

The censorship committee for the Egyptian television has decided to delete numerous scenes they considered inappropriate from television dramas to be aired during the month of Ramadan.

The committee considered that having inappropriate scenes is not right and should be removed to show respect for Ramadan.


9th August   

Update: Friendly Berry...

RIM concedes BlackBerry email snooping powers to Saudi
Link Here
Full story: BlackBerry Mobile Phones...Winding up countries who can't snoop on users

RIM Blackberry services have been restored in Saudi Arabia, reports say.

The authorities object to the devices because they operate an encrypted message service meaning that communication from Blackberry devices cannot be monitored.

The BBC's Ben Thompson, in Dubai, said that there are conflicting reports about why the handsets are currently working again.

Services are up and running again across the country, he confirmed: But inevitably, that raises more questions than it answers. If RIM did grant Saudi Arabia access to its security codes, other countries in the region would now expect the same.

RIM has been contacted by the BBC. In a statement earlier this week a spokesperson for the company said that the devices were deliberately designed to prevent anybody from accessing individual message data, which is stored on servers in Canada: RIM cannot accommodate any request for a copy of a customer's encryption key, since at no time does RIM, or any wireless network operator or any third party, ever possess a copy of the key. [Then how do they so easily seem to be conceding snooping rights to India and Saudi?]


5th August   

Update: Friendly Berry...

RIM concedes BlackBerry email snooping powers to India but not UAE
Link Here
Full story: BlackBerry Mobile Phones...Winding up countries who can't snoop on users

RIM has added India to the list of countries with which it's prepared to share data, and will help Kuwait block porn sites, but still hasn't opened its services up to the UAE.

Indian security forces will be able to intercept emails sent and received by BlackBerry users, within 15 days, as Reuters reports the country has been added to RIM's list of acceptable governments.

BlackBerry users enjoy unparalleled security in their email services, with email stored on RIM's servers and encrypted all the way to the handset. If you want to intercept mail you need access to the handset, or the servers, which is difficult when the former is in the hands of the user and the latter is in a different country.

The UAE-owned operator, Etisalat, did try to get snooping software onto BlackBerry handsets with a faked upgrade that failed in spectacular fashion. That really annoyed RIM, so now the UAE government faces crawling to RIM to ask for access to the servers, or just banning the devices from the country.


4th August   

Liberal Fifth Columnist...

Saudi minister's books unbanned
Link Here

Saudi Arabia has lifted a ban on books written by its ailing labour minister whose liberal tone provoked both the official clerical establishment and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Ghazi Algosaibi is a former ambassador to London and a confidant of King Abdullah whose push for reform has fostered divisions among senior members of the religious establishment and between reformists and the most conservative clerics.

Bin Laden singled out Algosaibi in a taped message from his hideout in 2006 as a liberal fifth columnist.


3rd August   

Update: Bury Berry...

UAE, Saudi and India whinge about not being able to snoop on BlackBerry phone users
Link Here
Full story: BlackBerry Mobile Phones...Winding up countries who can't snoop on users

Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry service may be banned in India unless the Canadian company agrees to allow India to snoop on usres, according to a government official with direct knowledge of the matter.

India has told Research In Motion to set up a proxy server in the country to enable security agencies to monitor e-mail trafficl.

RIM has the best encryption, significant subscribers, and a brand that's known across the world, said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner Inc. in Mumbai.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based company has assured the Indian government that it will address the nation's snooping requirements.

Mint newspaper earlier reported the government is considering banning mobile e-mail services including BlackBerry.

The company faced obstacles recently in Pakistan, where the national telecommunications regulator said it blocked Internet browsers on BlackBerry handsets, citing supposed concerns over blasphemy.

Moves against BlackBerry in Saudi and UAE

Based on article from

More than a million BlackBerry owners are to have services cut in two Gulf states after authorities demanded access to spy on users.

Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are to prevent the use of the instant messaging service between the handsets. And the UAE will also block emails being sent and bar internet access on the smartphones.

There are an estimated 500,000 BlackBerry users in the UAE, and 700,000 in Saudi Arabia.

In Saudi Arabia in particular, BlackBerry handsets have become the must-have gizmo for Saudi youths. They enable them to connect with members of the opposite sex in a deeply conservative society.

The Saudi move will begin later this month. Abdulrahman Mazi, a board member of state-controlled Saudi Telecom, has admitted that the decision is intended to put pressure on Blackberry's Canadian owner, Research in Motion (RIM), to release data from users' communications when needed .

The UAE's telecoms regulator, TRA, said some Blackberry services would be suspended from October 11.


30th July   

Free Hamed Saber...

Iranian photographer jailed presumably over photos of political protest
Link Here

More than 70 Iranian university graduates and academics are calling for the release of Hamed Saber, an Iranian photo-blogger and computer scientist who was arrested for unspecified reasons on 21 June 2010 in Tehra. A friend has informed us that it was the first time Hamed was arrested. The same source said several of Hamed's photos of the Iranian protest movement have been published in foreign magazines without his knowledge.

Hamed is also the developer of Access Flickr , a Firefox internet browser extension that bypasses filters on the photo-sharing website Flickr in Iran, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, China and other locations where it is banned.

There is an Iranian language campaign at Free Hamed Saber


30th July   

Stewed BlackBerry...

UAE whinges at BlackBerry as data is routed via UK rather than local snoop servers
Link Here
Full story: BlackBerry Mobile Phones...Winding up countries who can't snoop on users

The authorities in the UAE are making very public noises about RIM's BlackBerry smartphones. Apparently they're a threat to national security.

The United Arab Emirates Telecommunications Regulatory Authority noted that BlackBerrys operate beyond national jurisdiction because their core mechanism for delivering email is operated and managed by a non-Dubai company. The main concern is simple: In their current form BlackBerrys enable all sorts of communications tricks that could have serious social, judicial and national security repercussions.

Data from BlackBerrys in UAE goes through RIM computers in the United Kingdom. That is so RIM can compress the data to speed up transfers and so that RIM can bundle it to lower the impact on battery life, and so that RIM can encrypt and secure the data for corporate management reasons.

The TRA also had a veiled threat in these statements--the words current form in particular imply that the TRA may force RIM to modify its hardware or software in the future.


21st July   

Gambling on Censorship...

Israel starts on race to internet censorship
Link Here

Israeli police have ordered all ISPs to block access in a number of gambling sites, most of them abroad, which are suspected to be owned by Israelis:


The police instructed Israeli ISPs to block the IP addresses of relevant sites and asked to respond within 48 hours. But the ISPs argued their lack of actual ability to block IP addresses and lack of authority for such blocking.

The police battle against gambling is ongoing Three weeks ago, 28 people were arrested in connection with two major sites: and This was in suspicion of distributing prepaid cards worth tens of millions of NIS for gambling on the websites. The need to use alternative paying cards came after the 2007 block on payments to gambling companies instigated by the credit card companies under police orders.

Behind this campaign of eradication of 'illegal gambling', is the protection of the official monopoly on 'legal' gambling  for Winner-Toto and the National Lottery.


18th July   

Update: Unblocking Turkish Censorship...

Istanbul street protest against website blocking
Link Here
Full story: Internet Censorship in Turkey...Website blocking insults the Turkish people

Over 2,000 protesters marched in Turkey's largest city Istanbul against strict internet censorship in the country.

The protesters were demanding that a law preventing access to over 5,000 internet sites banned in Turkey be repealed.

They chanted slogans for removing the ban on video-sharing website YouTube and against the transportation minister, whose ministry is responsible for website bans, Xinhua reported.

Don't touch the internet, pull away your hand, the protesters shouted.

The protest was organised by the Common Platform Against Internet Censorship, a platform of over 50 organisations.

There was always dissatisfaction with internet censorship, but this was the first time people poured out into the streets, Ozgur Uckan of Bilgi University, one of the organisers of the rally, said.


6th July   

Not Worth a Foot...

Lebanon Facebook users arrested over trivial insult of president
Link Here

Lebanon's president, Michel Sleiman, may have more than 60,000 Facebook fans, but it took the opinions of just three people for things to get unfriendly. The three  were arrested for allegedly defaming the president on the social networking website.

There is currently no specific law governing the publication of online content in Lebanon. People can and do say what they want across a variety of networking sites. However, it is a crime to criticise the president of the republic, as his position supposedly represents the entire country. Knock Sleiman and you knock Lebanon.

The barbs, some of which were reposted on Sleiman's official page, were not particularly caustic. You're worth my foot, as one commenter wrote, is hardly a fierce indictment of Sleiman's presidency. Similarly, you're like a snake; all you do is from under the table, should not ruffle a man hardened by a career spent in the Lebanese army. If these are the worst jibes he has to endure, Sleiman can consider his political life charmed. The accusation that Sleiman was the king of racism and sectarianism probably grated harder.

The three young men have now been charged but released on bail.

The arrests are the first to be linked to online comments and while it was a state prosecutor who initiated the judicial proceedings, the president has been kept abreast of all developments. Sleiman, who after all has the power of pardon, said he could not allow such comments to go unpunished, labelling them an abuse of freedom .


5th July   

Don't Mention the War...

Turkey's TV censors wound up by Armenian Genocide comments
Link Here

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemned a decision by Turkey's Radio and TV Supreme Council (RTK) to ban the privately-owned TV station Habertrk from broadcasting one of its regular One on One discussion programs next month as a punishment for comments about the 1915 Armenian Genocide made by a guest on one of the previous programs.

The offending program, a debate between Yusuf Halaçoglu, the former president of the Turkish Institute of History (TTK) and Sevan Nisanyan, a journalist of Armenian origin, was broadcast on March 9, just a few days after the US House Foreign Affairs Committee adopted a resolution affirming the Armenian Genocide.It was Nisanyan's comments that upset the RTK.

The RTK told Habertrk it cannot broadcast the One on One program scheduled for 13 July and will instead have to broadcast messages chosen by the RTK.

Reporters Without Borders said it regarded this disproportionate punishment as censorship pure and simple and called on the RTK to rescind the decision. Free expression must prevail even when there are opposing opinions on sensitive issues, the press freedom organization said. It is part of the duties of journalists to organize debates in which different views are aired.


5th July   

Controlling Internet News...

Syria anticipates new laws on internet publishing
Link Here

With the Syrian government poised to issue a new law on internet publishing, civil society groups, website administrators and journalists are hoping for increased legal rights but fear they will be straitjacketed by tight restrictions.

For the past two years, the Syrian authorities have been designing regulations to cover domestic internet news, which has long been operating in a legislative limbo. The absence of rules allowed dozens of independent websites to spring up between 2003 and 2005, and they quickly became a highly popular alternative to traditional state-run media.

Characterised by a to-the-point modern writing style and a willingness to publish what had previously been considered unpublishable, including criticism of government policies, personalities and gossip, the sites grew in number and influence.

That brought with it greater official scrutiny, however, and, as the authorities struggled to keep up with internet development, new forms of ad-hoc control were introduced. The telecommunications ministry increasingly blocked sites and web administrators complained of being told to take down stories that touched on sensitive issues.

In the absence of a legal framework, the websites had no way of contesting increasing censorship or knowing what was and was not permitted. Faced with such difficulties, some news sites voluntarily closed, some moved abroad to publish without restrictions and others considerably watered down their coverage.

No details of the e-publishing law have been formally released yet though.

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