Archive for the ‘Human rights’ Category
[Cross-posted from OR318]
The two main arguments governments, and their supporters, make against free speech are these. First, that the outlawed speech is immoral. An example of this might be a blogger in Egypt who claims that Islam is a false religion or a blogger in the United States who maintains that killing people involved in overseas military operations is justified.
The second, and I think more common, argument is that allowing unfettered speech creates chaos that would significantly harm, and possibly ultimately destroy, a nation or society.
Neither rationale justifies the prohibition of speech because both are specious. There is, in fact, no legitimate justification for such a prohibition, because freedom of speech is not a cultural artifact, but rather a human right. By human right I mean that the need to express oneself, both on an individual and collective level, is a function of the human psyche, regardless of culture, subculture, geography, religion or even time. Try to think of a group or an era in which mankind did not attempt to express what was within its minds and hearts.
Because I is a idiot, I was considering reawakening the beast that is, or rather was, the Committee to Protect Bloggers. To do this, I need a free blog host. OK, they’re common enough. But since my techno-eyes are always bigger than my techno-stomach, I need a host that would also be available for constant bugging. Civiblog hosted us last time, and they are great. But since it’s student-run and volunteer, I was rarely able to get my questions answered in any kind of a timely fashion.
Do you know of such an outfit that would fit my demanding bill? If not, do you know of someone who would be dumb enough to set up say a WP blog on their own server and then be a techno-Lovejoy to my techno-Flanders? If so, leave a comment or email me at curthopkins/at/gmail.com or committeetoprotectbloggers/at/gmail.com.
It didn’t take long for YouTube cofounder Chad Hurley to trot out the Chamberlainesque excuse pioneered by Yahoo’s Jerry Yang, “At the end of the day we want to always maintain a platform that respects local laws and customs.”
As I said elsewhere: No, you don’t have to “respect local laws and customs” when it is a) antithetical to human rights and b) a cheap excuse to pimp your users. Looks like Chad & Co. have found an agreeable home at Google. “Do no(t as much) evil (as Yahoo).”
Between shareholders-rights fetishism and puppy-eyed PC credulity, YouTube may prove the platform of choice for those whose “local laws and rights” include having cops rape people for speaking their minds (Egypt) and mutilating people’s genitals for being the wrong gender (Ethiopia). I know a 16 year old kid who has gone to the Iranian equivalent of Pelican Bay because of “local customs.” (He satirized politicians on his blog.) Can you imagine how he’s being treated in there?
Business-oriented conservatives (“The CEO’s only responsibility is to his shareholders…”) and Pollyanna progressives (“Morality is a cultural construct…”) have come together to provide a stable ideological platform for helping some of the worst people in the world get away with (sometimes literally) murder. Finally, a place where left and right can come together.
If you help tyrants, you’re a bitch. If you do it for money, you’re a whore. For the founders of YouTube, this is the first time in a lifetime of bending over for tyrants and finding the money on the dresser. I hope Chad & Co. enjoy the position. Now that they have assumed it once, they’ll find it easier and easier to do.
Two awful stories prove that things are still bad for bloggers in oppressive countries. First, Yahoo. (And really, how could it not start with Yahoo?)
Speaking with VOA’s Mandarin Service Wednesday after arriving in Washington, Yu Ling said Chinese police arrested her husband, Wang Xiaoning, partly because Yahoo’s Hong Kong office gave Chinese authorities information about his e-mail accounts. (Voice of America, via Valleywag)
To my knowledge, Wang is not a blogger. But Yahoo is the same company that rushed to the “aid” of the Chinese government to secure a long prison term for another journalist, Shi Tao, who was a blogger.
Second, here’s an email I got from Amr Gharbeia in Egypt, in its entirety.
I am getting confirmations that there is a lawsuit against the government to block twenty-one websites and blogs, including my own.
The lawsuit is started by Abdelfattah Mourad, one of Egypt’s most senior judges–and head of the Alexandria Appeal Court, where imprisoned blogger AbdolKareem Nabil Soliman’s case is heard next week. The judge is a self-claimed authority in internet issues. I was excited by the fact that he started a blog a while ago, and wrote him asking if he would mind me writing a review for a book he published recently on “the scientific and legal foundations of blogs”. He did not mind, until I published the thing. He obviously has copied tens of pages from the recent report by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information on Internet freedoms in the Arab world. I noticed this only because some of the figures and estimations were taken from an interview with me. He did this without citation, except for one link to Initiative for an Open Arab Internet in the endnotes, while putting footnotes to other books he wrote on text that he has not written.
Three things prove it is not a mistake: 1) he copied at least two other bloggers with no referencing at all; 2) he changed parts in the text copied from the report to mean the opposite, for example to indicate that Tunisia is a nice, liberal and progressive country; and 3) he published at the front and back pages of his book several warnings against plagiarism, and referred to laws, religions and scientific research methods. He does not allow anyone to cite anything more than two lines from his writings, and in the book he warns against bloggers who violate copyrights, associates them with international terrorism and other things, and claims he has written a reference on
scientific methodology. To top it all, he annexes ready-to-fill complaint forms against bloggers who publish pornography (fitting someone’s head over a naked body, an imaginary case with no history in Egypt’s blogs) and publicizing news that could tarnish the country’s reputation.
I do not really care much for copy rights, and think they are over-rated and keep knowledge, medicine, and soon genetically-engineered food from the world’s poorest, and I would not have written anything if this was another blogger, or a journalist, or even a university professor. What worries me, however, is that this is a judge whose ruling cannot be appealed. He can silence, imprison or execute people, and he oversees our elections.
Once the blogs are found offensive by the court, then in light of the Egyptian’s regime reputation, it is automatic to prosecute the bloggers. This is an early warning. We are still gathering information, and HRInfo should be making a release and starting procedure Saturday next. Hossam elHamalawy is posting in English. Follow him for updates.
One of my favorite Arabic blogs used to be Haitham Sabbah’s Sabbah’s Blog. Haitham seemed to be a very passionate writer. He was not easily inclined to forgiveness and peacemaking, but he seemed nonetheless to try to see beyond his own horizon. I empathized with that because I think I’m a little like that myself. If Haitham talked about peace between Palestinians and Israelis, you could rest assured it was an effort for him and he wouldn’t take the effort for scant reason. But unfortunately, Haitham, like too many Middle Eastern bloggers, left off all pretense to civility once Israel invaded Lebanon in July of this year, in response to Hezbollah attacks.
Since that time Sabbah’s Blog has grown encrusted with “Zionist military regime” this and “Zionist terrorism” that. A shame maybe, a loss, but not a shock. Sabbah’s Blog has become just another conspiracy-riddled gossip sheet, typical unfortunately of a part of the world where independent news sources, and the critical thinking they inspire, are often in short supply.
I would certainly defend Haitham’s right to froth at the mouth all he wants. No government should interfere with the right of an individual to share his or her opinion on any matter, regardless of who gets offended in the process. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I think he should be rewarded. I stopped reading Sabbah’s Blog some time ago, and I encourage you to do the same.
What really bothers me, though, is not Haitham’s blog. It is the fact that he is, and remains, the Middle East and North Africa Editor for Harvard’s Global Voices Online project. According to the GVO site, this project is exists “To call attention to the most interesting conversations and perspectives emerging from citizens’ media around the world by linking to text, audio, and video blogs and other forms of grassroots citizens’ media being produced by people around the world.”
I don’t think it would be reasonable to require from Global Voices that it, or its editors, be impartial. I do think, however, that it is not out of line to expect them to be fair-minded. And I am unsure how someone who writes “Not an original idea, the Nazis had it first, but the part of the US paying, that’s original Israeli” is to be relied upon to bring a fair-minded review of the area’s discussions. Haitham has used the word “Nazis” 130 times on his blog and “facists” 60 times. I don’t recall him writing very much on European history so you can imagine what the terms are used for.
I’m not the only one who has noticed Sabbah’s veer into the warm embrace of hatred, and I don’t doubt that his bosses at GVO have been informed. But if likening Jews to Nazis never got a college professor fired, why would it result in the removal of an editor?
I just wonder if this is what Reuters meant when it said, announcing its monetary contribution to and partnership with, the organization, “The alliance with Global Voices enables Reuters to present a wider set of voices and commentary from around the world.”
Letting one’s emotions devolve into hatred is one thing, and a bad enough one at that. But when it leaks into and taints your capactiy for comprehensive and fair-minded coverage of a topic, it’s time to go. And if you don’t go, it’s time for your employers, or their funders, to show you the door.
Update: According to TechCrunch, that bastion of ethical business practices, Yahoo, is joining forces with Reuters to exploit the work of bloggers. Yahoo “is currently developing some sort of compensation method.” Yeah. And with their track record I’m sure bloggers will come out top. I wonder what the relationship is exactly between Global Voices, Reuters and Yahoo. Global Voices is an international blogging aggregator, Reuters licenses the GVO content and Yahoo, who helped the Chinese government send reporters to jail, uses it?
Update: The Ladies and Gentlement of Sokwanele’s “This is Zimbabwe” are back.
Not only that, they do not answer their email.
This in the midst of a further crackdown by that idiot Mugabe on online communications, according to Zimbabwean Pundit. As we reported on the again-no-longer-accessible Civiblog-hosted Committee to Protect Bloggers archive, Mugabe enlisted Chinese help last year in blocking pirate radio stations. (Here is a Reporters Without Borders report.) The same censorship experts are possibly assisting in the online crackdown.
If you know what’s going on with Sokwanele, please tell us.
I found out via [under construction] that an 18-year old Iranian woman named Nazanin Fatehi has been sentenced to death for defending herself and a 16-year old cousin against a rapist. She stabbed him and he died, so now, she’s been sentenced to die.
Former Miss Canada, Nazanin Afshin-Jam has started a petition for Nazanin and is working tirelessly to help her. Check out Afshin-Jam’s site and [under construction] to see what you can do. The least you can do is sign the petition.
Since the op-ed I was invited to write by Canada’s National Post is no longer accessible, I am republishing it here. This draft is not as tight as the published version, but it will have to do.
A Collective Conscience for the Wired World
On February 22, in a closed “revolutionary court” in Iran, Arash Sigarchi was sentenced to fourteen years in prison. In addition to being a journalist, Sigarchi is a blogger. A blog, for those who have not heard, short for “web log,” is nothing more than an online journal. On his blog, Mr. Sigarchi protested the months-long crackdown by the Iranian government on bloggers, online and print journalists.
The cover charges of which this secret tribunal found Sigarchi guilty included, untenably, espionage and, weirdly, insulting Iran’s leaders. His real crime was speaking his mind, not just to other Iranians, but to the world at large via his blog and by agreeing to interviews with BBC’s Persian service and Radio Farda. Sigarchi is not alone. Fellow blogger Mojtaba Saminejad was recently rearrested after failing to pay his doubled bail. And today, blogger Mohamad Reza Nasab Abdolahi was sentenced to six months in prison under the same charges.
The Iranian government is currently the most zealous persecutor of bloggers in the world. One reason for this, aside from the obvious distaste of all despotic governments for unfettered speech, is that Farsi, or Persian, the language of Iran, is the fourth most popular language in the blogosphere. Iranians, with their long history of intellectual achievement and worldliness, have taken to blogging like few other nations. After Iranian-Canadian Hossein Derakhshan authored the first Persian-language blogging software in November of 2001, blogging was a fait accompli in Iran.
But blogging is growing like mad around the world, matching and perhaps even surpassing the steep adoption rate of other influential online communications technologies. When I first researched the number of blogs, in late December, the blog search engine Technorati counted 5.4 million. Today they count 7.3 million. And the more bloggers there are, the more conflicts will arise.
Blogging is antithetical to government control of speech. Blogging is easy to do, with free or cheap software and hosting services providing the bulk of what’s needed. It provides the thrill of speaking your mind without censure. The culture of the blogosphere, as the world of blogs has come to be known, is one of radical re-contextualization. Quoting, linking, footnoting, commenting all help to rapidly pass on information. As blogging grows, more countries will begin to clamp down on them, just as they already clamp down on journalists, contributors to online bulletin boards and editors of non-blog websites.
Because Iran is currently the most egregious oppressors of bloggers, the Committee to Protect Bloggers mounted a campaign to free Mojtaba and Arash. Free Mojtaba and Arash Day took place on February 22. We encouraged bloggers around the world to dedicate their blogs to their two imprisoned brothers in Iran. Thousands of bloggers downloaded banners, or made their own; splashed only the words “Free Mojtaba and Arash” across their blogs or blogged on the detentions at length. Hundreds left comments on our site and on others’. Iranian bloggers showed up by the hundreds, at one point making up 12% of our visitors. From February 21 to February 23, our site received over 20,000 unique visitors. Google now lists 11,000 sites that mention us and Technorati counts 1,300 links to our site. Bellwether blogs like InstaPundit and the Daily Kos promoted the day, and it was covered by American public radio, the BBC, CNET and other mainstream media.
In the middle of the day on February 22, we received notice that Arash had been convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison. It was disheartening news, to say the least. The timing of the announcement by the Iranian government could hardly have been accidental. I believe the intention was to rob a worldwide, grassroots, cross-cultural groundswell of its momentum. Needless to say, it did not work. Nor did the charge that we are an “American” group. (American in this case meaning government-run.) Bloggers are not like other groups. They cannot be hierarchized. The blogosphere is a constantly changing, self-correcting system. Trying to cow bloggers is like trying to herd cats or squash water.
Bloggers are now a force in civil society, much as they have become a force in the world of journalism. Now that bloggers have awakened to both their power and their responsibility, they will clamp down like pit bulls and replicate like Cerebrus.
Nothing can be done now without this linked network, this worldwide organic supercomputer-with-a-soul, from spotting it, spelling it and passing it on. I hardly mean to say, as the Constable so unfortunately did, “A very little little let us do. And all is done.” Eliminating the ability of repressive governments to silence its people is a perpetual process, not a goal to be quickly achieved, not even in the accelerated world of the 21st century. Bloggers are just one more force against which governments living in perpetual fear of their own people will have to struggle. But we’re an unconquerable force: We’re legion, we’re everywhere, and we’re spoiling for a fight.