Pacific nation accidentally does good thing in web crackdown

Suppresses dissent, stifles criticism of detention camp - but takes down Facebook too

The Pacific nation of Nauru has been accused of censoring internet access to stifle opposition to the ruling government and possibly to suppress communications at an Australian detention facility for asylum seekers on the island. However it appears that the Nauruan net crackdown has also freed its people from the menace of Facebook.

Defending the censorship, Nauru's Minister for Justice, David Adeang, declared that the tiny Pacific Island's cabinet had merely agreed to "crack down on pornography" in what he emphasised was a Christian nation which had to protect its children.

Among the sites blocked is Facebook. Former Nauru president Sprent Dabwido suggests that the Facebook takedown could actually be a bad thing in this case as it might prevent people in the island's Australian detention facility from communicating with their families - though presumably if they have any internet access at all they could use other methods.

"The people [in the camp] are grumbling," he told Radio New Zealand International, adding that "the worst thing you can do to people who are in detention is actually prevent them from having the freedom to interact with families overseas and people back at home."

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that the detention centre has been an economic boon for aid-dependent Nauru, as it employs about 650 locals. Australian expenditure to operate the facility is estimated at $470m Australian Dollars annually.

In justifying the internet censorship, Minister Adeang pointed to an increase in children being "exposed sexually" through social media, and asserted, as a priority, the welfare of the nation's children.

A 2014 report into Australia's mandatory detention policy found that almost 200 children were being detained in the camp on Nauru. The report warns that "numerous reported incidents of assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm involving children [in Australian immigration-detention facilities] indicate the danger of the detention environment."

Facebook told AFP it was aware of the reports its site was unavailable in Nauru and hoped it would be restored soon.

"We believe that restricting access to a free and open Internet deprives people of important economic and social opportunities and choices and hope that access will be restored soon," it said in a statement.

Adeang attempted to brush away international concerns regarding the censorship, stating that "many outside of Nauru do not understand Pacific or Nauruan culture."

"As a nation, we have the right and the ability to promote the values that helped build our country, and these include values that are based on scripture," Adeang stated, adding that "Child pornography - indeed any pornography - is at odds with these values."

Almost 10 per cent of the people on Nauru are detained within the detention centre. It's not clear that detainees actually have any internet access at all, and they may have more serious problems than inability to get onto Facebook; Amnesty International has described conditions in the camp as "appalling".

A spokesman from island ISP Digicel told The Register<i/>: "The Government of Nauru has instructed the blocking of certain internet sites – some of which have already been blocked while the Government evaluates their suitability."

Meanwhile, an Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection told EL Reg: "Any internet restrictions in Nauru are a matter for the Government of Nauru. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection understands that any such restrictions would apply to the whole of Nauru, not just the regional processing centre."

We have also contacted Amnesty International and will update when we have been informed about the use of the internet by internees at Nauru's detention facility. ®

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