Hosting Services May Be Breaking Syrian Sanctions

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Syrian government sites hosted in the US, Canada and Germany may break internatiobnal sanctions

Researchers at the University of Toronto have uncovered evidence that numerous Syrian government institutions are using hosting services supported by data centres in Canada, the US and Germany.

Providing such services may infringe on sanctions imposed by governments and the European Union following the violent suppression by Syrian protestors in recent months, the report warns.

Violent crackdown

The report lists 17 Syrian government websites which are hosted in Canada, seven in the US and two in Germany, including the ministries of culture and transport, which are located in Canada.

The Syrian television station, Addounia TV’s website is also based in Canada, and has been criticised by the Canadian government as well as the European Union for “inciting violence against Syrian citizens.”

Another organisation which has attracted the attention of the researchers is Al-Manar, the media arm of Lebanon’s Hezbollah party, which is classified by Canada as a terrorist organisation. It uses Canadian based web servers to stream its television broadcasts globally despite being banned from satellite transmissions by the US, France, Germany and the EU.

The report asks if hosting falls within the scope of the sanctions placed on Syria following its violent crackdown on protests.

The UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that over 3,500 Syrian citizens have been killed since demonstrations began in March 2011. The Arab League has suspended Syria from its meetings while a Human Rights Watch report says that the Syrian regime has committed “crimes against humanity.”

The report says that there is a lack of clarity about laws which restrict trade with sanctioned regimes. It cites a set of laws that prohibit Canada from providing “goods” to 56 Syrian individuals and 21 organisations, including Addounia TV, but it remains unclear whether hosting is classified as a “good”.

Platform to operate

It says that American laws are far more transparent and explicitly mention web-hosting services, but also called on the hosting providers to think of the moral implications of providing such services.

“The existence of sanctions against Syrian entities like Addounia TV, however, should itself prompt some inquiry from web hosting services as to the human rights implications of providing an online platform to organisations associated with the Syrian regime,” said the report.

However it also warned, “Any consideration of the removal of an organisation’s website from web hosting services, however, must be treated as a potential infringement on freedom of speech and access to information, with due process and proper accountability mechanisms clearly articulated and followed.”

Access to communication services has been a characteristic of the Arab Spring and In June, during some of the largest anti-government protests to take place in Syria since they began in March, two-thirds of the country’s networks were cut off.

Similar tactics were employed by the former Mubarak regime in Egypt in February, when the government shut down the internet to prevent protesters from communicating through services such as Twitter, a move which cost authorities £56m.

In response, hactivist collective Anonymous attacked the websites belonging to the Yemeni and Egyptian governments in support of the protests.

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