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Nepal orders crackdown on porn websites

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By Agence France-Presse

Nepal said Thursday it had ordered more than 24,000 pornography websites to be blocked under a crackdown that activists have criticised as “ridiculous” and ineffective.

The move, which the government says is in order to curb sexual violence, follows a national outpouring of anger this summer in response to the brutal rape and murder of a 13-year-old schoolgirl in July.

The killing of Nirmala Pant sparked protest rallies across the country in August — leaving one dead and dozens injured — after the state was accused of not taking adequate action in rape cases, and a video emerged of police officers destroying evidence.

The government stoked further ire by describing the protests as a conspiracy against the ruling party.

In response to the mounting criticism, a state crackdown on “pornography and vulgar content” was announced last Friday.

“Easy access to porn and vulgar content through the internet has affected our social values and social harmony and it has encouraged sexual violence,” the government said in a statement.

The list of websites that the telecoms authority has told providers to block has not been made public — but as explicit sites were still easily available Thursday it was not clear if the ban was being enforced.

Binaya Bohara, CEO of Vianet, an internet service provider, warned that the government’s vague directive would be difficult to follow.

“There are many back end ways to reach these sites. It’s not a very effective way of doing things,” Bohara told AFP.

Meanwhile the crackdown has been slammed by campaigners. Lawyer and internet freedom activist Babu Ram Aryal told AFP the “ridiculous” ban exposes the government’s “lack of understanding of how the internet works”.

Women’s rights activist Mohna Ansari of the National Human Rights Commission said that the authorities were “closing their eyes to the reality”.

“This is not a solution to control sexual violence and rape,” she told AFP, adding that the real problem was the lack of justice for women who do take complaints of domestic and sexual violence to the police.

Since Pant’s death in late July — which spawned the hashtags #JusticeForNirmala and #RageAgainstRape — there has been a surge in reports of sexual violence both to police and in the national media.

In the last two months the police have registered 479 reports of rape and attempted rape, more than the total number of cases filed in 2008 and 2009, according to official figures.

Activists say the rise is due to more women reporting violence to the police, but also say many more still go unreported in deeply patriarchal Nepal.

Only 60 percent of Nepal’s population has access to the internet, according to the telecom authority’s numbers, raising further questions about the efficacy of banning online porn to curb sexual violence.

As Twitter user, Saurab Pokharel, wrote with reference to a popular online game: “Banning porn sites to control rape is like banning Clash of Clans to control robbery!!”