Bloggers upset over censorship in India, France

Indian bloggers lobby against censorship after reports that their government has instructed ISPs to block access to blog sites.

Indian bloggers are railing against censorship after reports that the Indian Government has instructed Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to blogs on blogspot.com and typepad.com, and to Web sites on GeoCities, as a security measure in the wake of the Jul. 11 Mumbai train bombings.

Indian Government officials at the High Commission of India in London on Thursday could not confirm or deny whether the Indian Government had ordered the sites to be blocked. Kuldeep Bhardwaj, the minister for press and information at the High Commission, had not yet been briefed by his government, but gave this comment to ZDNet UK on Thursday:

"Based on media reports, there is no blanket ban on blogs or Web sites. Three or four sites have been advised to be withdrawn from the Internet," said Bhardwaj. I'm not sure if this is because of the bombings in Mumbai."

Indian Government officials have reportedly admitted to ordering three or four sites that host blogs to be blocked. Bloggers are convinced that as many as 22 sites are being blocked, and blame both the Government and ISPs for the "censorship".

"Both are to be blamed equally," said blogger chaitubhai. "First, the Government for thinking that blocking 22 Web sites will have an effect on terrorism. Moreover, there's been no clarification on this issue."

"Second, the ISPs for showing such incompetence. They haven't bothered to apply their brains in blocking the sites."

Bloggers quickly posted instructions on how to circumvent the alleged blocks at a wiki called Bypassing the Ban in India, while a Web site called India Censored devoted to the issue has been created by Srinivasan Ravi, a member of the Google Bloggers Collective.

While there is some confusion as to whether the Indian Government has ordered the sites to be blocked, bloggers are incensed at the perceived violation to their rights.

"Just when I thought our clueless bureaucrats had reached the nadir of their incompetence, they go ahead and block blogs," said Sunil, a blogger on Google Groups.

Some bloggers are threatening to take the Indian Government to the Indian Supreme Court over the alleged infringement of their rights, according to Web reports.

"We believe it is undemocratic and against the right to freedom of expression. Though the action is undemocratic and unconstitutional, we will use constitutional means to fight it," Web journalist Kajal Basu told Monsters and Critics.

The Indian High Commission could not comment on whether blocking the Web sites went against the Indian Constitution.

Bhardwaj said: "I've seen media reports that bloggers are protesting. India is a democratic country--if people feel their rights are infringed, they can go to the Supreme Court. You'd have to ask [the bloggers] if their rights have been infringed."

"We have the right to information legislation. It's my understanding that some bloggers have asked for information as to why the sites have been blocked," he added.

Frenchy blogger fired
In other blog news, a British citizen based in France who claims she was sacked after blogging is taking her former employer to an employment tribunal, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Using the pseudonym La Petite Anglaise, the blogger was allegedly fired for "gross misconduct" and for bringing her employers into disrepute through her blog, and for updating her blog at work.

According to the Telegraph, her lawyer has lodged a claim with the prud'hommes--a French employment tribunal--claiming compensation of up to two years' pay, or about £54,000 (US$98,670).

Legal experts have warned employers that their policy on blogging needs to be very clear.

"Blogging is straightforward. The terms should be clear. You mustn't automatically sack employees for blogging at work, and any disciplinary action must follow minimum standards of fairness," said Struan Robertson, associate partner at Pinsent Masons solicitors.

"A policy, either about blogging specifically or communications generally, can help to set the ground rules for staff so they understand what is and is not allowed," Robertson told ZDNet UK.

"Most employers allow employees a certain amount of personal use of facilities during work time. Employers should be aware more staff may be updating blogs at work. In the worst case, employers might find themselves liable for comments made by staff. Blogging also opens the door to problems of defamation and harrassment," he added.

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