Indian Censorship in Oman

If you are a fan of Bollywood films and happen to be a user of Omantel’s home broadband service, you might be surprised to find that a number of websites that cover such films are blocked in Oman, not because the Omani government has anything against them, but because the Indian government has decided that such websites need to be blocked.

Censorship in Oman is not as big a problem as it is in some of the neighbouring countries. The most irritating aspect about censorship in Oman is the restriction on VoIP services such as Skype, but no other major website such as Blogger, Wikipedia, YouTube, or Flickr is blocked in the country.

Censorship in Oman is about to get unpredictably complex as a report by the OpenNet Initiative has found evidence of the inaccessibility of a number of websites in Oman due to the routing practices of Omantel.

According to the OpenNet Initiative, Omantel has signed a number of agreements with an Indian Internet service provider for traffic peering that allows Omantel and the Indian service provider to share their traffic with the intention of improving the performance and reliability of the service provided by both ISPs. This means that when a user in Oman attempts to open a website, his request might be routed from Omantel to the Indian ISP and then to the Worldwide Web.

An unintended consequence of this practice is that an Omani user will not be able to access a website if it is blocked in India and Omantel decided to route that request through the Indian ISP. For example, an attempt to visit absongs.com and desimusic.com from an Omantel connection would come up with a page that says, “This website/URL has been blocked until further notice either pursuant to court orders or on the directions issued by the Department of Telecommunications”.

So now not only websites that violate Omani law are blocked in Oman, but even websites that violate Indian law will also be blocked in Oman. This is surely unacceptable, because even though Oman does censor the Internet on its own, India also has had a history of unreasonable censorship of websites that exceeds that seen in Oman, in some instances. For example, the whole of Yahoo Groups was previously blocked, and more recently, the video website Vimeo has also been blocked.

Internet users should have the right to access all websites as long as these websites do not violate Omani law, and it really does not make sense that Omani Web users have to go through the lengthy and cumbersome process of getting each website blocked by the Indian government, unblocked.

The Telecommunication Regulation Authority in Oman should consider policies relating to peering agreements between Internet service providers in the country and those outside, and ensure that such agreements do not impose further content restrictions on the accessibility of the Internet in Oman.

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