On the eve of World Day Against Cyber-Censorship and with support from Google, Reporters Without Borders today awarded the first “Netizen Prize” to the Iranian women’s rights activists of the Change for Equality (www.we-change.org) website. Journalist, blogger and activist Parvin Ardalan, one of the site’s founders, received the prize from French journalist Jean-Marie Colombani in a ceremony at the Paris headquarters of Google France.
“We are very pleased that Iran’s women bloggers have been recognised by the first Netizen Prize,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Internet has been of enormous help in defending freedom and democracy in Iran since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection last June. Most of the photos and video we have seen of the events in Iran were sent via the Internet.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The Iranian blogosphere is every active and deserves strong support. Without these courageous and determined netizens, we would be deprived of information that is essential for understanding our world.”
Google senior vice-president David Drummond said: “Freedom of expression is fundamental for empowering individuals. At Google, we are working so that Internet users are given more information, more choice and more control in as many countries as possible. Supporting the Netizen Prize with Reporters Without Borders and rewarding the courage of the Change for Equality collective offer a new opportunity to promote what we believe in deeply.”
Change for Equality was launched in September 2006 by a group of about 20 women, mostly bloggers and journalists, to promote a campaign for changes to laws that discriminate against women. Three and a half years later, the site has become an authoritative source of information about women’s rights in a society ruled by fundamentalists. The achievements of these online women’s rights activists include helping to challenge a bill making polygamy easier in September 2008 and helping to develop Iranian civil society. More than 50 of the movement’s activists have been summoned, arrested and jailed since the site’s launch.
Accepting the award, Parvin Ardalan said: “This prize is not just for single website. It rewards the efforts of all those who fight for free expression in Iran. Some of them are in prison. I dedicate this prize to them.”
The Reporters Without Borders Netizen Prize will be awarded annually to a blogger, online journalist or cyber-dissident who has helped to promote freedom of expression on the Internet.
The nominees for this year’s prize were Yoani Sánchez (Cuba), Tan Zuoren (China), Tamer Mabrouk (Egypt), Ingushetiyaru.org (Russia) and Nguyen Tien Trung (Vietnam).
World Day Against Cyber-Censorship is celebrated every 12 March with the aim of rallying support for a single Internet without restrictions and accessible to all. Reporters Without Borders marks the event by issuing an updated version of its “Enemies of the Internet,” a list of the countries that are the worst offenders as regards restricting online access.
More and more governments threaten online free expression and take concrete measures to limit it. Access to Google and YouTube is currently blocked in 25 countries.