'Canada, US web servers sites host Syria gov’t, Hezbollah'

University of Toronto academics warn hosting web pages could violate sanctions against Damascus and Lebanese terrorist group.

November 20, 2011 03:48
1 minute read.
The majority of Middle East internet users are highly educated

Computer. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Canadian, American and German Web servers are hosting Syrian government websites in possible violation of sanctions against Damascus, according to an academic study released Thursday.

The report by researchers at the University of Toronto also found that servers in Canada and the US are hosting Web pages for Hezbollah, the Lebanese movement both countries officially designate as a terrorist group.

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Researchers at Citizen Lab, part of the university’s Munk School of Global Affairs, discovered that the home pages of Syria’s Ministries of Culture, Transport and others are hosted in Canada, as is the Syrian TV station Addounia. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television station is hosted on servers both in Canada and the US.

Of the Syrian government sites, 17 were found to be hosted in Canada, seven in the US and two in Germany. In Canada, most of the sites are hosted by the Montreal-based Web-streaming platform iWeb.

“Our findings peel back the layers of a complex, highly nuanced, and often seamy world of Web hosting,” said Citizen Lab director Ron Deibert. “That Syrian government websites, including a Syrian state-backed television station known to be inciting violence, are hosted in Canada is at minimum in contradiction to Canada’s stated foreign policy and possibly [providing] material support to a regime that is now globally condemned for its repression and violence.”

Ottawa’s sanctions against Syria – where civilians are fighting a bloody eight-month revolt against the regime of President Bashar Assad – include “an asset freeze and dealings prohibition on additional members of the regime and those who provide it with support.”

Addounia TV is specifically singled out for sanctions by both Canada and the European Union for inciting violence against Syrian citizens.

“Web hosting companies flinch at the first sign of controversy, and big corporations have used this as a way to create a chilling effect and get content taken down, and that needs to be rectified,” Deibert said.

“But of equal concern is content that is linked to repression. Government has to give some direction here.”

Canada’s Foreign Ministry said it was investigating the researchers’ findings.

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