Sex and the Censors in Asia
Image Credit: Flickr / Mad About Asia

Sex and the Censors in Asia


Last February, the Indonesian government dropped plans to filter ‘bad’ content through its Multimedia Content Screening team after the plan met with strong public opposition. Yet, undeterred, it’s now reviving the proposal in the wake of a celebrity sex tape scandal that continues to shock young and old alike in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

The government points to the ease of distribution the Internet offers, which has meant the tape of showbiz stars Nazril Irham and Luna Maya apparently having sexual intercourse has circulated widely since it was first uploaded. The controversy has provoked an outcry among conservative forces in the country who have called for more moral protection for young people, and the government has responded by moving to enforce an Internet blacklist enabled by an anti-pornography law passed two years ago.

Indonesia isn’t the only South-east Asian country to be rocked by such a scandal—there was a similar case in the Philippines last year, which paved the way for the passage of an anti-voyeurism law; lawmakers have also crafted a cybercrime bill. Today, posting of pictures depicting ‘sexual or other obscene or indecent acts’ on the Internet is now deemed a cybercrime offense.

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In Cambodia, meanwhile, the government is proposing establishing a state-run exchange point that would allow it to control all local Internet service providers, a move supposedly aimed at strengthening Internet security against pornography, theft and other cybercrimes. The draft regulations are yet to be finalized, but the government is expected to seriously pursue the measure after it found itself powerless in a recent furore over illegally taped women bathing at a monastery.

In each of these cases, opposition to a tightening of the rules has been relatively subdued, in stark contrast to the outcry when South-east Asian governments make more overtly political censorship decisions.

Thailand earned cyber notoriety for becoming the first country in the world to shut down 100,000 websites for containing ‘dangerous’ material, and it famously punishes bloggers and website administrators for violating its strict lese majeste law. Vietnam, meanwhile, has been accused by Google and McAfee among others of launching cyber attacks against selected websites, including those that advocate opposition to bauxite mining, a controversial issue there.

Such moves usually elicit global condemnation among Internet users, media groups and human rights organizations. Governments can, of course, always ignore their noisy critics, but they risk losing international credibility (and business), meaning that governments with at least the trappings of democracy can’t afford to censor online media for extended periods.

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