India Closes Access to Many Internet Sites

India bans access to blogs it says preach hate

India has banned access to 17 Internet Web sites and blogs it says preach messages of religious hatred, an official said on Wednesday.

But in scrambling to obey the order some of India's Internet service providers have simply blocked users from looking at entire domains such as

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-- and the thousands of blogs, or online web journals, hosted there.

The government said it had written to ISPs, which it licenses, with a list of sites to blocked in the interest of Indian security on July

13, two days after seven bombs killed more than 180 people on the Mumbai train network.

But Gulshan Rai, director of the Ministry of Communication's Indian Computer Emergency Response Team, said the ban order was not a specific response to the attack.

"These blogs are pitting Muslim against non-Muslim," he said.

Bloggers have reacted with outrage at what they say is an erosion of free speech, as well as bafflement at the sometimes surprising choice of sites included in the ban.

"If this isn't censorship, I don't know what is," wrote blogger Neha Viswanathan at

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Several of the blogs, like
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contain conservative American commentaries on the Middle East and the "war on terror," of a kind unlikely to stand out from thousands of others on the Internet.

At least two took passing swipes at Islam in posts referring to suspicions that Muslim extremists may have carried out bombings in India, but there appeared to be little which could worry those charged with looking after India's security.

Bloggers were quick to post simple methods for skirting the ban, including accessing some banned sites through

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a site designed for people whose blog is "blocked in India, Pakistan, Iran or China."

And with the banned Web sites' addresses splashed on newspaper front pages, many pointed out that the ban would have the opposite effect to the one intended.

"The ban is just bringing more attention to these sites which can be accessed anyway," Delhi-based blogger Shivam Vij

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"Before they would have had a very small readership -- most of these sites most of us hadn't even heard of. There is no proven evidence of these Web sites provoking violence, it's just paranoia."

Internet service provider Spectranet confirmed that it had received the government order last week but had only been able to follow the ban by blocking entire domains.

Its technicians were working on a more precise block that would only restrict access to the 17 banned sites.

"We have a hell of a task on our hands," said B. C. Jain, Spectranet's Chief Operating Officer.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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