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Media body accuses UNESCO of bowing to censors

A map showing the countries deemed "Internet Enemies" by the organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is seen in this undated handout photo. The leading media watchdog accused a United Nations agency of "groveling" to authoritarian governments by dropping sponsorship of a free speech day on Wednesday. REUTERS/ Handout/RSF

PARIS (Reuters) - A leading media watchdog accused a United Nations agency of “groveling” to authoritarian governments by dropping sponsorship of a free speech day on Wednesday.

Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, organized its second Online Free Expression Day on which it published a list of “Internet Enemies” -- governments it says imprison Internet users.

The group accused the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) of yielding to pressure from some of the 15 member countries on the list by dropping its backing for the event.

“Unfortunately, it seems we have gone back 20 years, to the time when authoritarian regimes called the shots at UNESCO headquarters in Paris,” the group said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

“UNESCO’s groveling shows the importance of Online Free Expression Day and the need to protest against governments that censor.”

UNESCO responded by saying it supported freedom of expression on the Internet but withdrew its sponsorship because of what it said was misleading use of its logo to indicate support for RSF’s views.

“In its communications on the day, RSF published material concerning a number of UNESCO’s member states, which UNESCO had not been informed of and could not endorse,” it said in a statement.

The countries listed by RSF were: Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

Reporting by Brian Rohan; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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