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The BBC's Frank Gardner
"This strict censorship is going to affect Saudia Arabia adversely in the economy"
 real 28k

Sunday, 13 August, 2000, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Saudi pulls plug on net porn
A centralised body patrols domestic internet exchanges
By Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner

The Saudi authorities have reportedly blocked access to all online computer clubs where subscribers were exchanging pornographic material.

On Sunday the Saudi press quoted a senior Saudi official as saying that access to all Yahoo clubs had been blocked because it was hard to control them.

The online clubs, known as muntadayat in Arabic, have been widely used by both Saudi nationals and expatriates to exchange ideas and find partners.

But it was the free passage of pornographic material between subscribers that most troubled the government.

Window closed

As the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia is a deeply religious and conservative country, where pornography in any form is strictly forbidden.

When the government recently introduced the internet to the country, it set up a central node in the capital Riyadh through which all domestic internet traffic has had to pass.

One of the chief monitors, Dr Fahd Al-Hoymany, told the BBC that the Saudi population expected his team to police the internet usage in order to filter out material which they would find offensive.

That would certainly include the dozens of free-speaking internet chat rooms where couples of all sexual orientations have been typing messages to each other.

There are more than 100,000 registered internet subscribers in Saudi Arabia.

In this tightly controlled society the internet was one of the few opportunities for young Saudis to express their true feelings and to discuss certain taboo topics.

But from this month it seems that that window of expression has been firmly closed.

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