A report released by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed the prevalence of online censorship in several North African countries.

The 140 page report titled "False Freedom: Online censorship in the Middle East and North Africa" was presented at a press conference at the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society, in Tunis. It is based on in-depth research in selected countries where censorship of electronic content is widespread.

Over the past years, stringent measures relating information and communication technologies have been imposed on the country's citizens. The report cited a portrait of Tunisian President, Zein El Abidine Ben Ali located in western Tunis, with the caption: "Opening disk drives is strictly forbidden. It is forbidden to access prohibited sites. Thank you."

Eric Goldstein, director for the Middle East and North Africa division of HRW pointed out that whilst there had been improvements in the access to information in Tunisia "there is still surveillance and certain internet sites are still prohibited or blocked."

"This year, online journalist and father of three, Mohamed Abou, was sentenced to three years in prison for publishing an article on a banned website comparing President Zein El Abidine Ben Ali to Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon," said Goldstein. HRW are currently lobbying for support at the Summit, encouraging an end to such censorship.

Highway Africa News Agency