* Internet seen as new rights battleground
* New restrictions on civil liberties groups increasing
* Vulnerable groups, including women, remain targets
(Adds details, quotes, background)
By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON, March 11 China and Iran have
stepped up their abuses of human rights, targeting both
anti-government activists and the free flow of information over
the Internet, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.
In its annual survey of human rights in 194 countries, the
State Department also criticized Cuba, Myanmar, North Korea and
Russia, which it faulted for killings of activists and
While it noted the end of Sri Lanka's 33-year civil war in
May, the report found that both the government and the defeated
rebel Tamil Tigers had used excessive force and committed
abuses against civilians last year.
The report identified several general trends: government
efforts to silence dissent, including by constraining Internet
communications; new and often "draconian" restrictions on civil
society groups; and the persecution of vulnerable groups, such
as minorities, women, children and the disabled.
China, long the target of U.S. criticism for violating
human rights, was accused of broadening its efforts to suppress
information on the Internet.
"China increased its efforts to monitor Internet use,
control content, restrict information, block access to foreign
and domestic Web sites, encourage self-censorship, and punish
those who violated regulations," it said, adding the government
employed thousands to monitor electronic communications.
It said the government tightly controlled Internet news,
particularly around sensitive events such as the 20th
anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, and automatically
censored email based on a changing list of sensitive words.
China's Internet policies have thrust Beijing into a
dispute with search engine giant Google (GOOG.O), which has
said it may shut down its Chinese Google.cn portal and withdraw
from the Chinese market out of concerns over censorship and a
hacking attack from within the country.
IRAN TAKES ON THE INTERNET
The report also highlighted Internet censorship in Iran,
which accompanied the violent suppression of mass protests
after the announcement that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had
"The government's poor human rights record degenerated
during the year, particularly after the disputed June
presidential elections," it said, adding the authorities had
undercut Iranians' right to change their government through a
free and fair election.
The report said Iran disrupted electronic communications,
blocking access to social networking websites such as Facebook
and Twitter, and it noted that bandwidth had at times dropped,
which may have been designed to restrict Internet access.
The United States, which severed diplomatic ties with Iran
after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, suspects Tehran of seeking
to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is
solely to generate electricity.
President Barack Obama's administration has sought new
engagement with Tehran, thus far with little to show for it.
The report noted that Iranian police and Basij religious
volunteer militia violently suppressed demonstrations after the
election, with clashes leading to the deaths of 37, according
to official figures, and as many as 70, according to opposition
By August, the government had detained at least 4,000
people, it said, and during the Dec. 27 protests on Ashura, the
ritual Shi'ite day of morning, the authorities detained 1,000
people and at least eight people were killed in street
The report found that Russia, another perennial target of
U.S. criticism in the survey, had weakened freedom of
expression and media independence "by directing the editorial
policies of government-owned media outlets, pressuring major
independent outlets to abstain from critical coverage, and
harassing and intimidating some journalists."
It said unknown people killed human rights activists and
eight journalists, including Natalia Estemirova, who spent more
than 10 years documenting killings, torture, and disappearances
that she linked to Chechen authorities. Estemirova was
kidnapped and shot in July.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)