First Online Free Expression Day to be launched on Reporters Without Borders website under UNESCO patronage
Reporters Without Borders will launch the first Online Free Expression Day under UNESCO’s patronage tomorrow.
“From now on, we will organise activities every 12 March to condemn cyber-censorship throughout the world,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A response of this kind is needed to the growing tendency to crack down on bloggers and to close websites. We thank UNESCO for providing its support for this special day from the very first year.
“Tomorrow, the first time this day is being marked, we are giving all Internet users the opportunity to demonstrate in places were protests are not normally possible. We hope many will come and protest in virtual versions of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Cuba’s Revolution Square or on the streets of Rangoon, in Burma. At least 62 cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned worldwide, while more than 2,600 websites, blogs or discussions forums were closed or made inaccessible in 2007.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Our list of ‘Internet Enemies’ has also been updated with the addition of two countries – Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. And we are offering an new version of our Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents.”
To denounce government censorship of the Internet and to demand more online freedom, Reporters Without Borders is calling on Internet users to come and protest in online versions of nine countries that are Internet enemies during the 24 hours from 11 a.m. tomorrow, 12 March, to 11 a.m. on 13 March (Paris time, GMT +1). Anyone with Internet access will be able to create an avatar, choose a message for their banner and take part in one of the cyber-demos taking place in Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, North Korea, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.
There are 15 countries in this year’s Reporters Without Borders list of “Internet Enemies” – Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. There were only 13 in 2007. The two new additions to the traditional censors are both to be found in sub-Saharan Africa: Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.
“This is not at all surprising as these regimes regularly hound the traditional media,” Reporters Without Borders says in the introduction to its report.“Internet penetration is very slight, but nevertheless sufficient to give them a few nightmares. They follow the example of their seniors and draw on the full arsenal of online censorship methods including legislation, monitoring Internet cafés and controlling ISPs.”
There is also a supplementary list of 11 “countries under watch.” They are Bahrain, Eritrea, Gambia, Jordan, Libya, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Unlike the “enemies,” these countries do not imprison bloggers or censor the Internet massively. But they are sorely tempted and abuses are common. Many of them have laws that they could use to gag the Internet if they wanted. And the judicial or political authorities often use anti-terrorism laws to identify and monitor government opponents and activists expressing themselves online.
“The hunting down of independent thinkers online is all the more effective as several major western companies have colluded with governments in pinpointing ‘trouble-makers’,” the reports says. “US company Yahoo! apologised in 2007 for a ‘misunderstanding’ which ended in journalist Shi Tao being sent to prison for ten years. The company has been responsible for the imprisonment of a total of four Chinese cyber-dissidents. It was apparently willing to ‘obey local laws’ that forced it to identify Internet users deemed to be dangerous.”
Finally, a new version of the Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents is available in French and English on the Reporters Without Borders website (www.rsf.org). It offers practical advice and techniques on how to start up a blog, how to blog for anonymously and how to circumvent censorship. It also includes the accounts of bloggers from countries such as Egypt and Burma.
The cyber-demonstration was devised and produced by the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency.
The first Online Free Expression Day is under UNESCO patronage