Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to
hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas
through any media regardless of frontiers.
Someone, anyone, please tell me this a cruel joke and a figment of my imagination? Please.
I am confused. Very confused. Extremely confused. Too much confused. Confused in all the superlatives possible and allow me to explain why.
Out of the world's 10 worst online oppressors, five are in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena region). Bloggers are most at risk in Egypt, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists in its report The 10 worst places to be a blogger.
According to the same organisation, 2009 "marks the first time the number of jailed online writers surpasses the number of detained print journalists." Out of the 125 journalists currently imprisoned around the world, 56 are web-based journalists and writers.
Radio and TV stations in our part of the world have always been government controlled. Newspapers are censored and self-censored and don't even go there, for I have been on that side of the fence and have professionally used my delete button to wipe out all forms of dissidence, especially those uttered by the disenchanted in my society. Come the Internet, and overnight everyone and anyone can talk, discuss and communicate with the rest of the world, without having his/her thought rubber stamped by governments for approval. With blogs, activists and people whose only chore in life is to tell us what their cats have been up to, can publish articles, posts photographs, shoot and beam videos and record podcasts and spread them on the www with the click of a button.
This new 'threat' which exposed corruption and police brutality, human rights issues and social taboos normally swept under the carpet, became public enemy number one. As a result, blogs, websites and online forums are routinely filtered and bloggers and online forum admins and writers are harassed and jailed.
Here's a brief outline of what I am tempted to call The Wall of Shame, which I swear took me less than 15 minutes of Googling:
Bahrain: A self-declared democracy, which actively censors the Internet and where even the Bahrain blog aggregator is blocked. Most popular Arabic online forum www.bahrainonline.org blocked for years, and its three administrators jailed for two weeks in 2005 for anti-government comments posted by readers. And new laws are coming into place to further monitor and censor free speech.
Saudi Arabia: Named as an enemy of the Internet. Actively censors the Internet, without masking it; bloggers and journalists jailed without access to a fair trial. Latest most publicized case involved Fuad Al Farhan, who was jailed from December 10, 2007 to April 26, 2008, and is now banned from travelling outside the kingdom for posts published on his blog in support of Saudi political and human rights reformers. Early this year, reports surfaced on the arrest of 28-year-old blogger Hamoud Bin Saleh. His blog Masihi Saudi (A Saudi Christian) was also, naturally, blocked. At one point, Saudi Arabia even blocked blogger.com but backed off after an outcry.
Kuwait: Though more open, compared to the rest of the region, blogger Bashar Al Sayegh, was arrested for comments published by an anonymous commenter on his online forum in 2007, sending shockwaves across the citizen media sphere.
Qatar: Blocks sites, such as social networking site Tagged.com
UAE: Filters the Internet, Flickr blocked, talk of YouTube and Twitter may be blocked as well. Oh right, and you are not allowed to even go anywhere near the economic crisis, lest it becomes a reality.. God forbid.
Oman: Although it doesn't make the headlines, online forum admins and bloggers are in danger if they cross the line, or criticise the government or government-owned businesses. Article 61 of the Telecom Law makes owners and moderators of websites responsible for the content published on their sites, and Ali Al Zuwaidi from Sablat Oman is standing trial based on this law.
Yemen: Reports continue on increasing intimidation targeting bloggers and online journalists, the latest is a death threat from the security apparatus against the editor of online news website Akhbar Alasr editor Mohammed Al Jabali. The site has also been hacked. This scenario has been recurring with an alarming frequency. Oh this was so last week. New reports from Yemen are even more damning: One Internet writer was just arrested - and another one SHOT (source)
Egypt: An enemy of the Internet. Probably makes the most headlines because of the number and frequency in which bloggers are arrested (I have seriously lost count of how many bloggers have been arrested and why and so has everyone else), in addition to the creativity and the way bloggers are using the Internet to push their messages. The catch with Egypt is that many bloggers double as activists, and are arrested because of their activism. However, Egypt doesn't filter the net .. Spoke too fast. Following a new court order, Egyptians will no longer be able to access porn sites.
Turkey: Turkish courts order the filtering of sites, following complaints lodged against material deemed offensive. As a result: Blogger.com, WordPress, YouTube, Slide and DailyMotion, are all blocked there. Anyone from Turkey please tell me what you can really access there?
Tunisia: An Enemy of the Internet. All Internet cafes are state-controlled. Bloggers harassed and jailed. Websites and blogs are filtered with surgical precision. Censors and citizen journalists play a cat and mouse chase, with the former blocking all sites and mirror sites launched by the bloggers. Political sites are also becoming a primary target for hackers. In September, Tunisia lifted a ban on YouTube and Dailymotion
Libya: The Libyan Constitution guarantees freedom of expression but "within the limits of public interest and the principles of the revolution". However, Article no.178 of Law no.71/1972 stipulates that who publish any information which defames the country or undermines confidence in it abroad, shall be sentenced to life imprisonment. Both journalists and bloggers harassed and arrested. It is no surprise that Libya is ranked 190, out of 195 countries, in Freedom House's Freedom of the Press index.
Syria: An enemy of the Internet. Once described by Reporters without Borders as the Middle East's biggest prison for cyber-dissidents. Access to Arabic opposition sites and Syria's Kurdish minority blocked. Facebook blocked.
Iran: Enemy of the Internet. Journalists and bloggers have a target on their backs in Iran. Last year, Iran arrested Hossein Derakhshan, aka Hoder. Earlier this year, blogger Omid Reza Mir Sayafi died in prison, "under circumstances that have not been fully explained."
This Wall of Shame is by no means complete and is not even the tip of the iceberg. And then you wonder why I am confused?