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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Internet Filtering in Yemen in 2004-2005

The Republic of Yemen limits what Internet content its citizens can access by using commercially available filtering technology and by controlling its two Internet service providers (ISPs), TeleYemen (operators of the service YNET) and YemenNet, through the state's powerful Ministry of Telecommunications. The OpenNet Initiative (ONI) tested the filtering systems of both ISPs, and found significant congruence but also notable differences between the two. Pornography is the primary target of both, but other types of content are targeted to varying degrees, including sex education and provocative clothing sites, gay and lesbian-related materials, gambling sites, dating sites, drug-related sites, sites enabling anonymous Web surfing, proxy servers that circumvent filtering, and sites with content related to converting Muslims to other religions.

The Republic of Yemen's legal regime involves relatively little formal restriction of Internet use and access, though the rules set by the ISPs include substantial restrictions on what may be accessed or published. These rules prohibit the access or publication of material deemed to be obscene or subversive on political or religious grounds. Human rights and other non-governmental organizations have complained that the Yemeni state restricts what journalists may write and how citizens use the Internet through a variety of means of intimidation. However, Internet access is readily available from homes or Internet cafés for those who can afford it.

To carry out its filtering regime, Yemen relies upon the commercial product Websense. ONI's testing reveals that TeleYemen blocks sites classified by Websense into the categories "Adult Content," "Lingerie and Swimsuit," "Nudity," "Gay or Lesbian or Bisexual Interest," and "Sex Education," and likely blocks the master category "Adult Material." TeleYemen also uses a category called "User-Defined," which enables a filtering entity to compile and block sites based on its own criteria. The sites included by TeleYemen in the "User-Defined" category primarily deal with religion and the religious conversion of Muslims. The specific Websense categories blocked by YemenNet are "Adult Content," "Lingerie and Swimsuit," "Nudity," "Sex Education," "Abused Drugs," "Marijuana," and "Gambling," and likely the master category "Adult Material."

While the Republic of Yemen substantially filters material on topics related to sex, sexuality and gambling, the state does not try to control broadly what its citizens see on the Internet. For instance, unlike certain other states that filter Internet content, Yemen does not block political content and its blocking of religious content is limited, focusing only on a small

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