The Internet is the tool most feared today by the elites, the media and by the power. It empowers those who otherwise would remain forgotten, oppressed. It is a weapon that gives ammo to those who are protesting for justice, equality and freedom and that shakes the structures of the state – and of companies – which sees no other choice but to censor.
– Brazilian blogger and Global Voices author Raphael Tsavkko Garcia
Today marks the World Day Against Cyber Censorship, an initiative promoted by global NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in support of a single Internet that is unrestricted and accessible to all. The day will hopefully inspire Internet users to increase their own awareness of online censorship, which is something that many Global Voices authors know all too well.
GV author Lina Ben Mhenni is one such blogger. She lives in Tunisia, which has been named by RSF as an “enemy of the Internet” several years in a row. In her own blog, she writes:
Do you know how does it feel to be censored?
Well, I do !
Indeed, I am experiencing this DISGUSTING feeling since February, 24th 2010. That day, back home from work, I was so disappointed when I discovered the horrible “Error 404″ message- a message that stands for a censored web page in my country- when I tried to log in my Facebook and my blog.
Diego Casaes, a Brazilian GV author who wrote this post on the subject linking to bloggers around the world and highlighting Global Voices’ many projects, wrote his own prescription for how governments should deal with the Internet on his blog:
I also think that governments should be encouraged not to regulate, but rather give the proper infra-structure and educate people on how to use the web. This way, citizens will trust the government and be able to freely express themselves on the web: this is of utmost importance! On this matter, I also think companies should become more aware of their influence in society. Google’s decision not to regulate search results in China after having some Human Rights activists’ accounts hacked (follow this link for more information) is a demonstration of how companies should position themselves.
On his blog, Moroccan GV author Hisham answers the question, “What does anti-censorship mean online?”:
In my humble opinion it means protecting what in some countries has become the last frontier of freedom of expression, which is at the core of all other freedoms; the last place where people can still escape restrictions of oppressive regimes. It means using blogs, videos, pictures, social networks, podcasts and the innumerable tools available online to mobilize people around a cause, expose rights abuses, communicate local struggles and causes to the rest of the world, give voices to the disenfranchised and the minority groups, hold governments accountable, investigate and reveal the truth.
Pakistan is not considered an “Internet enemy,” but its online censorship often affects bloggers heavily. Of his country, GV Advocacy author Awab Alvi writes:
It is my position that the internet should be free and open to the People of Pakistan allowing the people to harness this boundless platform for creating new spaces for exchanging ideas and information, the Internet should be considered as a force for freedom and looked upon as a tool for progressing the growth of a struggling nation.
Lebanon is not engaged in filtering the Internet, but that doesn't stop Layal Al Khatib from speaking out about it on her blog. This is what being anti-censorship means to her:
Freedom! Our most basic right as human beings! We need to be free to express our feelings, thoughts and opinions with no fear of anyone! Censorship by other parties usually ends up with self-censorship, you’ll end up imprisoning yourself if they don’t do it themselves! Which is more dangerous to me..
Lingua Malagasy translator Tomavana notes that in Madagascar, the problem is not necessarily filtering, but access, reminding us [FR] that censorship is not the only barrier to free expression:
Quant à évoquer cette liberté d’expression à Madagascar, c’est invariablement buter à la réalité des manques de moyens communs aux pays en développement….De plus, avec un taux d'utilisation d'internet de moins de 5% de la population, il s'agit plus d'un avantage supplémentaire que monnaie une minorité de privilégié plutôt que de véritable droit. Je formule cependant le vœu que ces dérives ne puissent servir de prétexte à un musèlement ni une censure d'Internet à Madagascar mais qu'au contraire son accès soit facilité pour le plus grand nombre notamment par une amélioration de l'offre internet accompagnée à une baisse des coûts de connexions.