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Nepal bans porn sites to curb sexual violence

Over 24,000 pornography sites blocked but activists say the real problem is the lack of justice for women.

Nepal said on Thursday it had ordered more than 24,000 pornography websites to be blocked under a crackdown that activists have criticised as "ridiculous" and ineffective.

The move, which the government says is in order to curb sexual violence, follows a national outpouring of anger this summer in response to the brutal rape and murder of 13-year-old Nirmala Panta in July.

Panta's killing sparked protest rallies across the country in August - leaving one dead and dozens injured - after the state was accused of not taking adequate action in rape cases and a video emerged of police officers destroying evidence.

The government stoked further ire by describing the protests as a conspiracy against the ruling party.

In response to the mounting criticism, a state crackdown on "pornography and vulgar content" was announced last Friday.

"Easy access to porn and vulgar content through the internet has affected our social values and social harmony and it has encouraged sexual violence," the government said in a statement.

'Closing their eyes to the reality'

The list of websites that the telecoms authority has told providers to block has not been made public - but as explicit sites were still easily available on Thursday it was not clear if the ban was being enforced.

Only 60 percent of Nepal's population has access to the internet, according to the telecom authority's numbers, raising further questions about the efficacy of banning online porn to curb sexual violence.

Binaya Bohara, CEO of internet service provider Vianet, warned that the government's vague directive would be difficult to follow.

"There are many back-end ways to reach these sites. It's not a very effective way of doing things," Bohara told AFP news agency.

Meanwhile, the crackdown has been slammed by campaigners. Lawyer and internet freedom activist Babu Ram Aryal told AFP the "ridiculous" ban exposes the government's "lack of understanding of how the internet works".

Women's rights activist Mohna Ansari of the National Human Rights Commission said that the authorities were "closing their eyes to the reality".

The real problem is the lack of justice for women who do take complaints of domestic and sexual violence to the police, Ansari told AFP.

Panta's killing caused an increase in reports of sexual assault. In the past two months, the police have registered 479 reports of rape and attempted rape, more than the total number of cases filed in 2008 and 2009, according to official figures.

While more women are reporting violence to the police, activists say, many more still go unreported.


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