Reporters Without Borders expressed satisfaction as Saudi Arabia announced it has lifted a ban on two gay websites, in response to an appeal from the international press freedom organisation. Head of the Internet Services Unit (ISU), Eyas Al-Hajery, responsible for the Internet within the kingdom, said in his reply, "After receiving your letter, we carried out a new examination of these sites. Since no pornographic content was found, the ban has been lifted". Welcoming the move, the organisation added that it hoped this would be just a first step in an easing of Saudi government censorship on the Net. ________________________________________________________ Saudi authorities have blocked Gaymiddleeast.com - a news site for the Middle East's homosexual community - since the beginning of March 2004. Reporters Without Borders has called on the Internet Services Unit (ISU), the agency responsible for the Internet in Saudi Arabia, to lift the ban on this and other similar sites. The site was earlier blocked in June 2003 but the government lifted the ban a month later. The US site 365gay.com has also been censored. "Officially filtering is only supposed to be applied to pornographic publications or those directly harming Islam," said Reporters Without Borders. "In fact, the Saudi Internet blacklist extends to other areas, from political sites to non-recognised Islamist sites via, of course, any publication relating in any way to sexuality. "We condemn this extension of censorship, which is in the process of reducing the country's network to an Intranet, as in Burma or Cuba," said the organisation. Gaymiddleeast.com posts news intended for homosexuals in 15 countries (Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen) and is mainly devoted to be subject of persecution of homosexuals. It does not post anything of a pornographic nature. 365gay.com, to which Gaymiddleeast.com is affiliated, also deals with homosexual rights. Homosexuality is forbidden in Saudi Arabia and is punishable by imprisonment or flogging. "The Kingdom of Censorship" has erected one of the Internet's largest filtering systems. Saudi authorities say that they block access to nearly 400,000 web pages, explaining that the censorship aims to "protect citizens from content that is offensive or violates the principles of the Islamic religion and social norms." The ISU is responsible for maintaining the Saudi web censorship system. It controls the gateway used by all Saudi Internet access providers. The agency can thus control the entirety of information exchanged on the Net. It is also the ISU that oversees the country domain name (.sa) and manages the Saudi network from a technical point of view.