Mass internet censorship in effect in the Maldives!

Ironic isn't it? Just a little over a week ago, the President of Maldives Mohamed Nasheed announced his intentions of making Maldives a sanctuary for dissenting writers from countries such as Burma. Now, a week later, Haveeru News reports that the Telecommunications Authority of Maldives has blocked 5 sites under orders from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MoIA).

Officially blocked

Here are the sites declared not-fit-for-public-consumption along with their approximate blocked date:
1. seedhaahithun.com (29 Nov 2008, details)
2. sidahitun.com (29 Nov 2008, details)
3. gospelgo.com (29 Nov 2008, details)
4. raajjeislam.com (13 Mar 2009, details)
5. randomreflexions.com (15 Mar 2009, details)
6. feydhooschool.info (15 Mar 2009, details)

Seedhaahithun.com, sidahitun.com and gospelgo.com were apparently blocked for "promoting Christianity". The reason for blocking RaajjeIslam a few days ago is unknown and according to the media, the MoIA has not offered an explanation. As has been noted by Minivan News and Haveeru News, the website was blocked after they published an audio clip of Mohamed Shakeeb, an Imam at Shaviyani Atoll Foakaidhoo, claiming that he has been threatened by the State Minister of Islamic Affairs Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed. It is interesting to note that the material on the website seems to be ideologically similar to that advocated by the Adhaalath Party, who controls the MoIA, and tame compared to what can be seen at, say, fagudi.wordpress.com. There is no specific explanation given for randomreflexions.com. The feydhooschool.info site was apparently blocked upon request from a "senior person" at the Feydhoo School. I seriously doubt the MoIA has the authorization to block any website under such flimsy pretense.

Mass censorship??

You might have noticed that I used "mass internet censorship" in the title of this post and here is why.

As you may already know, every human readable pretty domain name maps to an address called IP address. That is how computers find each other on a network and on the Internet. For example, the domain name for Dhiraagu is dhiraagu.com.mv and their associated IP address is 202.1.207.33. So when you type in dhiraagu.com.mv, your computer looks up the IP address and tries to access the server computer at that IP address. But an IP address can be shared by many different domains on a single server and this is the standard practice amongst all web hosting services. The Dhiraagu IP address, for example, is shared by around 81 other sites including Bank of Maldives and Bandos Resort. If someone wanted to block, say, Bank of Maldives and placed a block on the IP address 202.1.207.33, then all the other 81 domain names would also be affected and their sites made inaccessible. Please note there doesn't necessarily have to be any relationship or connection between the sites that maybe hosted on a single IP.

Now consider the above mentioned blocked sites, their IP addresses and the number of sites it carries.

- 98.130.196.2 (raajjeislam.com) --> 181
- 67.205.44.193 (simonshareef.com) --> 98
- 66.197.160.197 (feydhooschool.info) --> 589
- 64.71.35.15 (gospelgo.com) --> 9
- 58.137.156.52 (seedhaahithun.com, sidahitun.com) --> 32

That means there would be a total 909 unintended victim sites that fell prey to the mindless blocking of just these few site IP addresses! This has been confirmed been both on Dhiraagu and ROL connections.

While running censorship checks, using lists of Maldivian blogs and websites, a few other websites got flagged as possible victims of MoIA instructed blocking or indirect victims of such blocking.
- souley.org (ROL only)
- gasim08.com (ROL only)
- maumoon2008.net (ROL only)
- mvphotos.org
- simonshareef.com

Souley.org, gasim08.com and maumoon2008.net are all hosted at the popular GoDaddy hosting service and happen to be all on the same server. The server is also host to 5553 other domains hence all those 5553 are under functional censorship as well. It is not clear whether this really is due to censorship of one these three websites (or possibly another I am not aware of) or due to a technical glitch. Given that these sites are accessible under Dhiraagu, it may well be due to a glitch at ROL but I thought it maybe worth mentioning here. (Update: 17/Mar/2009) I've been informed that ROL was indeed instructed to block that IP as well, meaning well over 6000 sites are currently effectively censored! MvPhotos.org and simonshareef.com are hosted on the same server as randomreflexions.com and hence is blocked as well (or possibly has been blocked under instruction from MoIA).

I cannot stress enough the irresponsibility that goes with imposing such unrestricted IP based blocks. I suspect the blame for this mishap rests solely on TAM and the two ISPs.

Future

The Maldivian blogosphere contains dozens of blogs from various individuals, Muslim and other belief positions alike, that do not subscribe to MoIA's views and are pretty vocal in letting their opposition and dissenting views be known. But by no means is dissent limited to personal websites only. The popular video sharing website Youtube contains many videos that promote Christianity in Dhivehi. There is also growing demand for the many thousands of articles, books, videos and lectures on the various theistic and nontheistic positions that are available online for easy reading for the English literate. One thing is clear for the future: Maldives is no longer a mostly homogeneous society where people think and believe the same thing, despite the continuing assertions by the government and the MoIA. Will MoIA continue to block websites, including those such as YouTube?

Breaking free

The Internet is a beast that is hard to tame and a blocked website is just a minor inconvenience at best.
RSS - All blocked blogs and websites with RSS feeds can be accessed using some of the many free web-based RSS readers.
Proxy - Using a proxy might be convenient and might be the best option if the site you are trying to access does not provide full RSS feeds. There are two ways to this: using a web-based proxy service or setting a proxy in your browser.
Tor - Tor is a freely downloadable software that uses a method called "onion routing" to bounce your traffic several times with different hosts on the internet before going to the final destination.

Opinions

Perhaps it is too soon to raise alarm over the MoIA's tightening grip on the internet, perhaps it will be reversed soon. Either way, it is not too early to call for the establishment of clear guidelines and mechanisms for blocking websites, if the government really insists on continuing to stifle opinion. Letting anyone reign per their whims on the sole source of decent information available in the Maldives, to arbitrarily block websites and blackout large sections of the internet, does not seem very conducive towards the new government's promise of a free and democratic society.

Elsewhere on the Maldivian blogs...
- maldives: Maldives to become haven for dissident writers but plagued by censorship
- maldivesdissent: Maldives president blocks websites and crackowns on protests
- ithadu: How sensible is the Islamic Ministry?
- ithadu: From internet to intranet! Democracy?
- duwyduwy: Attack on bloggers
- chopey: Dr. Majeed, Please bless my blog
- majlissexstories - Internet banned
- Bits 'N' Bytes: I condemn internet censorship by Islamic Ministry in Maldives
- MaldivesHealth: In support of RandomReflections
- pizzahouse: A moment of silence...

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Note: Big thanks to Hassan for all the help he provided in running the block checks on ROL and contributing to the mini-investigation. Also thanks to Nattu and Rhipha for the list of Maldivian websites and Millzero for confirming the blocks on Dhiraagu.

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Comments

Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)

  1. aMMu says:

    Seems some cant handle criticism.I think we should be more tolerable.

  2. yaamyn says:

    Well done. Excellent post.. except it's going to go over the heads of all the camel huggers.

    I've created a Facebook group to discuss ways to ban the Adhaalath.. you may join it here and give your inputs :

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=57232602638&ref=mf

  3. anon says:

    people confuse democracy with the concept of liberty. Democracy is essentially a system where "majority rule" is excercised. it is not a good thing in and of itself. In a democratic society, if the majority of the people believed the minority should be shot it would be considered the appropriate thing to do.
    Liberty, is the freedom of individuals to act as they choose, as long as thier actions do not infringe on others excercising the same right of individual freedom(certain restrictions are required obviously as completely unrestricted freedom is not possible in order for societies to exist). freedom of speech and freedom of expression are individual liberties. these rights would be protected by the governmant in a free society.

    The most basic of individual liberties, the freedom of belief, is one which maldivian citizens do not have.
    A state religion is imposed on us. it is forced on us by the state, as according to the constitution you cannot be a citizen unless and only if you are a muslim. hence we cannot think or act in any way or that contradicts islam or express any views that conflict with it either as it would be against the law stated in the constitution. UNLESS ofcourse you are a member of the cabinet or happen to be the president of the country, in which case you are exempt from the laws of the constitution and you can help yourself to as many sula shiraz's as you want and get away with it.

    we are obviously not a free society and the leaders of our country have always been hypocrites and anni is no exception.

  4. bonobo says:

    is it too much to hope for a secular government before the "island-paradise" sinks?

  5. Jameel says:

    hey ppl. not all bloggers are sensible good bloggers. this randomreflexion blogger is a notorious anti religious guy whose main purpose is to ridicule the beliefs of a whole country. so there has to be checks and balances. i also would not approve blocking whole ranges of ips just to block one junk site. but the poison has to be contained. and controlled. what the moia should have done is to catch hold of that nutter and flog him a 100 lashes infront of the public for ridiculing a whole nation. in every country there are laws and norms... ppl are expected to live by the rules and not offend others right? now these nutters who blog anti islam rants cowards hiding under the freedom of expression of thing deserve to be punished and the unwitting public has to be shielded from their poison.

  6. Jameel's dad says:

    Jameeel...are you talking for the whole nation??or you think your talking for the whole nation haa..who said the this nation is 100% muslim...i can promise you that its not..

    "ppl are expected to live by the rules and not offend others right? now these nutters who blog anti islam rants cowards hiding under the freedom of expression of thing deserve to be punished and the unwitting public has to be shielded from their poison"

    where is our rights...what poison...if you think your and ur "nations" faith is unbreakable why block some "nutters" site..why cant you break up & defeat his claims and arguments by your hadith and quran..for most parts seems you cant handle and tolerate ppl who dont agree with you....or you cant even properly argue with them

    and guess what that site is unblocked...so just shut Up and take you nation to Arabia...or Iran

  7. jameel's grand dad. says:

    hey sonny. Doing debates with these kaafir ppl will be fruitless cos they will argue for the sake of argument not to seek to mend their ways. there is no need to tolerate those who seek corruption in the land. they shall be dealt with firmly. that is what that shall be done.

  8. Robert says:

    Over ten years ago Christian tourists led Maldivians to faith in Jesus Christ. Gayyoom and the Supeme Council of Islamic Affairs promptly ordered their arrest by the NSS. Some were imprisoned in Dhoonidhoo and later managed to flee from the Maldives. The Maldivian Christians shared their testimony of Jesus through Far Eastern Broadcasting radio. Gayyoom immediately banned the broadcast as unfit for Dhivehi ears. This only aroused the interest of freedom lovers. Soon all the atolls were listening to the gospel. Dhivehi Christians helped produce the Jesus Film in their own language. The church grew.

    Five years ago Dhiraagu blocked Sidahitun, DhivehiObserver and GospelGo. It was a shock for me because I have hundreds of Dhivehi friends that receive GospelGo. A muslim friend in Male' advised me about using a proxy. Soon Dhivehin were responding in greater numbers.

    http://gospelgo.com/y/dhivehi2.htm

    Nails could not stop the Lord Jesus. Censorship cannot stop the gospel.

    Blessings from brother Robert, webmaster of GospelGo.

  9. madhu says:

    is watching porn sites illegal in maldives??im new to this country and i am 30 yrs old...


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