Launched by Reporters Without Borders in 2008, World Day Against Cyber-Censorship (on 12 March 2012) is intended to rally everyone in support of a single Internet without restrictions and accessible to all.
The fight for online freedom of expression is more essential than ever. The Arab Spring has clearly shown, by creating new spaces for exchanging ideas, that the Internet is a vehicle for freedom. In countries where the traditional media are controlled by the government, the only independent news and information are to be found on the Internet, which has become a forum for discussion and a refuge for those who want to express their views freely.
However, more and more governments have realized this and are responding by trying to control the Internet and by stepping up surveillance of Internet users. Netizens are being targeted by government reprisals. More than 120 of them are currently detained for expressing their views freely online, mainly in China, Iran and Vietnam. World Day Against Cyber-Censorship pays tribute to them and their fight for Internet freedom.
With support from Google, Reporters Without Borders will award the Netizen Prize, on Monday 12th March, at 6 p.m. The ceremony will take place in Paris. The 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 winner will receive 2,500 € in prize money.
Last year the prize was award to the members of the Tunisian independent collective blog Nawaat.
NOMINEES FOR THE NETIZEN PRIZE 2012
LEONARDO SAKAMOTO, BRAZIL
This journalist and political scientist has tought journalism and has worked for various media covering a range of stories including East Timor’s independence war and the civil war in Angola. In his blog, he writes about environmental and social conflicts, taking a particular interest in Brazil’s indigenous minorities and contemporary slavery. A committed defender of Brazil’s indigenous communities, which get little coverage in the media and online, he opposed the construction of the proposed Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which would flood a vaste swathe of indigenous land and displace around 25,000 of its residents. He has also criticized the eviction of members of the Guarani people from their land so that it could be used by agro-industrialists. He is the coordinator of the NGO Reporter Brazil, representing it on the National Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labour (Conatrae).
RESIDENTS OF THE VILLAGE OF WUKAN, CHINA
In Wukan, a village of 13,000 inhabitants in the southern province of Guangdong, protests against the seizure of farmland escalated into an uprising as a result of the violent response from the authorities. When one of the village’s spokesmen, Xue Jinbo, died in police custody on 11 December 2011, Wukan’s residents took to the streets in their thousands, chasing officials out of the village and demanding an impartial enquiry into his death. The authorities reacted by laying siege to the village and trying to prevent any information about the uprising appearing online and on social networks, which residents had used to report that they had been surrounded by the police. Nothing was left to chance. The keyword “Wukan” was blocked on search engines, hot tweets were closely monitored and all photos and videos showing the protesting villagers were removed from the Sina and Tencent Weibo micro-blogging sites. The reaction to the Wukan uprising was not isolated. The authorities often try to cover up local corruption cases by censoring online protests – a response that is indicative of government nervousness about repercussions from the Arab spring and the role played by the Internet and social networks as a sounding board. Wukan’s residents managed to make their anger heard and to rally public support thanks to the Internet, above all, the Weibo social network. The central government ended up having to negotiate with them and Lin Zulian, the leader if the Wukan protests, was appointed local Communist Party chief on 16 January 2012.
MAIKEL NABIL SANAD, EGYPT
Egypt’s first post-revolution prisoner of conscience, the young blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad has become a symbol of the repression that resumed after Mubarak’s overthrow. Aged 26, Sanad posted blog entries criticizing the army’s abusive treatment of protesters during the spring 2011 demonstrations. Arrested on 28 March 2011, he was tried by a military court and sentenced to three years in prison on a charge of insulting the army in a blog post entitled, in English, The army and the people wasn’t ever one hand. He refused to attended the hearings before the military court and went on hunger strike in protest against the “travesty” of his trial and his mistreatment in detention, which he has described in his prison articles. He was finally pardoned along with around 2,000 other detainees who had been tried by military courts. Following his release on 24 January 2012, he lost no time in challenging the legitimacy of the armed forces again and criticizing their record on the eve of the first anniversary of Egypt’s revolution.
GRIGORY MELKONYANTS AND THE GOLOS TEAM, RUSSIA
KartaNarusheniy.ru is an interactive map of electoral irregularities. The result of an initiative by the NGO Golos (“Voice”) in partnership with the Gazeta.ru news portal, the map allows Internet users to report any electoral fraud they witness by uploading photos, video and audio recordings, which are signalled by red links on a map in the location where they took place. Originally posted on Gazeta.ru, it was removed at the end of November 2011 to allow more space for advertising in the run-up to the end-of-year holidays, the site’s management said. Gazeta.ru deputy editor Roman Badanin resigned in protest on 30 November. The authorities apparently pressured the site’s management to remove the map, on which more and more red spots were appearing every day in the run-up to the parliamentary elections. The Kremlin denied the allegations of electoral fraud outright. The news portal Slon and The News Times weekly also carried the map.
MEDIA CENTRES OF THE LOCAL COORDINATION COMMITTEES, SYRIA
These media centres were created by the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCCSyria) to quickly collect and circulate reports, photos and videos throughout the country of the Syrian uprising and the government’s crackdown. Consisting for the most part of ordinary citizens and human rights activists, they and other groups of citizen journalists play a leading role in disseminating and circulating first-hand information internationally, while Syrian journalists and bloggers are being harassed and arrested and the international media are being sidelined. Updates are posted regularly on the LCCSyria website and social networks. Reporters Without Borders intends this nomination to be a tribute to all the Syrian cyber-dissidents who have taken great risks to document the tragedy unfolding in Syria.
PAULUS LÊ VAN SON, VIETNAM
Paulus Le Van Son is a 26-year-old Vietnamese blogger who writes about political and social issues, especially religious affairs and human rights. He covered anti-Chinese demonstrations and police violence. He was arrested in Hanoi on 3 August 2011, the day after he covered an appeal hearing in the case of fellow netizen Cu Huy Ha Vu. He was previously arrested while on his way to cover Vu’s trial in April. Son also writes for the collective blog Baokhongle and Vietnam Redemptorist News, a Catholic newspaper for which he organized workshops and training sessions for bloggers. He is currently held in Hanoi’s B14 prison on a charge of trying to overthrow the government under article 79 of the criminal code. He is one of a total of 22 netizens currently detained in Vietnam for expressing their views on the Internet.