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Where is South Asian participation @IGF2012?

Author's name: 
Ritu Srivastava (Digital Empowerment Foundation)
New Delhi, India

Think-tanks, technologist, policy advocators, government stakeholders, civil society groups, human rights evangelist and individuals across all sectors of internet arena joined, collaborated and participated together to discuss, debate and express their views collaboratively at the international forum, 7th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held last week at Baku, Azerbaijan from 6-9 November, 2012.

This international forum represented participation of delegates from 128 countries, however, one question was pointing me from the beginning is the participation of South Asian countries. Out of 9 countries, just 3 countries participated, in which India was remarkably presentable, followed by Pakistan and Afghanistan with their limited participation, and countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were negligible and representatives from Bhutan, Maldives, Burma were missing in such international forum.

When we are talking about South Asia, let me explain how important South Asian countries’ participation is.

Internet users’ in Asia is estimated 1,016,799,076 representing about 44.8% of the population worldwide and 26.2% of the population in Asia according to Internet World stats 2011. Asia is one of the fastest growing and largest internet population in the world with an increase of 789.6% since 2000.

South Asia region is one fifth of the world population and 40% of the Asian population with almost 70% of the residents living in rural areas. Internet made its entry in the region during mid-90s, total number of internet users have reached to 85 million though the overall penetration is still under 10%. Country like India which is currently the world’s third largest user in absolute numbers after US and China, however active internet users’ are still under 10%. Only 21% out of a thousand people in South Asia are internet users while most developed nations have connected nearly all their primary and secondary schools to internet, and just 38% of developing countries have done so-and less than one per cent of many African countries. In comparison, percentages recorded in Scandinavian countries now exceed 90%.

Just remembered, what Carlos Afonso, internet and communication rights activist is the Executive director of APC Member Nupef in Brazil, stated during the opening ceremony of this year’s IGF,

“Let the Internet flourish freely to the benefit of those who live at its edges, which are all of us.”

And when we are talking about globalization? We are talking about internet freedom? We are trying to connect developing countries? Where it is in South Asian countries?

We say, South Asian countries are experiencing a boom in internet use, however, also seeing tightening of restrictions on online content. These restrictions range from repressive law and regulation on censorship, surveillance and data protection, to physical attacks on bloggers and online activists.

So called largest democratic country in the world, India passed law in 2011 which negatively affect internet freedom. The repressive elements of the Indian IT Act which has already included provisions for censorship and monitoring have been further expanded through new regulations to increase surveillance in cyber café.

In Bangladesh, the draft law on the regulating online media is aiming to impose exorbitant prices for online license fees which could equally effect for online free expression. Interestingly, Pakistan internet users’ are using different information and communication technologies to communicate.

And many countries in the region have reported physical attacks on government critics. For instance, in Sri Lanka, an arson attack destroyed the offices of a popular online news site that had supported the president’s competitor in the 2010 election.

These are some worrying trends that should be taken into account in such international forums. But question is why in such big international forums, South Asian countries are neglected? Why there is no participation of representatives from countries like Maldives, Burma, Nepal, and Bangladesh? Who will address their issues & challenges – issue of infrastructure, issue of security, issue of online freedom, issue of online freedom of expression, issue of uniformed policy and many more… if there will be no participation from such countries.

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