Citizen Media and Online Free Speech

While the first session of the 2008 Global Voices Summit focused on how internet censorship works in Belarus, Japan, Egypt, and Pakistan, and how activists have responded to those limitations, the second session was specifically focused on how censorship affects bloggers and citizen media. It was liveblogged by Juliana Rotich. Speaking during the session were Wael Abbas, who is the first blogger to receive the Knight International Journalism Award for documenting human rights abuses in Egypt through online video; Ory Okolloh, a veteran Kenyan blogger who co-founded Mzalendo, a website that tracks the performance of Kenyan Members of Parliament and Ushahidi, which tracked incidents of violence following the Kenyan elections; Alex Au, a leader of Singapore's gay rights movement who blogs at Yawning Bread; Oiwan Lam, co-founder of the Hong Kong-based media activist site; Amine, a Moroccan human rights activist and co-founder of; and Hamid Tehrani, Global Voices Persian language editor who spoke on behalf of Mehdi Mohseni who was not able to secure a visa to come to the summit.


Audience intently focused on the “Citizen Media and Online Free Speech” session.

Wael Abbas spoke first and led off with several difficult-to-endure videos showing clear human rights abuses in Egypt.

Abbas emphasizes that while Egypt claims to be a democracy, its government system is really a façade of democracy which does now allow for full political participation. Unsurprisingly, that also applies to online political participation. Most famously, Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Soliman was sentenced to four years’ prison for insulting Islam and the president. Kareem's detention spawned the Free Kareem! campaign which has been documented at length by Sami Ben Gharbia on Global Voices.

It's not easy to be a citizen media activist in Egypt, notes Abbas. Several bloggers have suffered character assassination campaigns. Abbas himself has been accused of being Christian (he is Muslim) and homosexual in hopes of discrediting the videos and blog posts he publishes.

Up next was the tireless (and currently pregnant) Ory Okolloh who was ordered by her doctor to stay in bed. Her version of bed rest, she told us, would be to briefly share her personal experience of the valiant response by Kenya's bloggers in the political crisis following their country's late December presidential election. Ethan Zuckerman has recently documented Okolloh's participation (along with other Kenyan bloggers) throughout the crisis.

As it became clear that Kenya would be in crisis for more than a few days, bloggers began to search for ways to share their workload. Okolloh, who resides in Johannesburg, returned home on January 3rd, after a difficult debate over whether she should stay to document the crisis or prioritize the safety of her young child. Three days after arriving in South Africa, she added a new feature to her blog: “diary entries” written by guest bloggers and submitted to her via email. In the month the diary was active, it featured 26 posts from a variety of Kenyans, including regular bloggers who sought an opportunity to reach a larger audience and from people who had not previously published online. The tone was sharply different from Okolloh’s opinionated, but news-focused, reports – the diaries were personal reflections on the crisis, providing context for readers interested in how the crisis was affecting individual Kenyans.

In her first post on returning to Johannesburg, Okolloh proposed another form of distributed reporting, a Google Maps mashup that showed incidents of violence reported throughout Kenya […] The reaction to this idea, one of nine points in a long roundup, helps demonstrate Okolloh’s influence and reach in the blogger community. (Technorati lists Kenyan Pundit as the #15,282nd most popular blog in its index, a very high rank for an Africa-focused blog. At the peak of its popularity during the crisis, 0.004% of all blog posts on the internet linked to Kenyan Pundit, a level comparable to regular linking to Global Voices Online, one of the 200 most popular blogs in the world. Within three days of her January 3rd blog post, a prototype version of the system she proposed had been built. By January 9th, it was live at (The term Ushahidi means “witness” in Swahili.) A day later, a partnership with Kenyan mobile phone operators allowed Kenyans to post reports using an SMS shortcode.

Okolloh is clear that, especially compared to her Ethiopian and Zimbabwean colleagues, there was very little institutional censorship, but that most bloggers self-censored during the crisis because of societal and family pressures. There was also the matter of moderating comments. Okolloh received many comments threatening to rape and attack her. Every time she wrote a post she thought of her family and their safety. On a related note, the popular discussion forums were also briefly shut down after some posters advocated violence.

While Okolloh added the element of self-censorship to the discussion, Alex Au starts his presentation with a slide which reads “the psychological side of censorship.” He is concerned about the amount of apathy to the internet censorship which takes place in Singapore. What is it that drives a local society to advocate for their right to free speech and why isn't it taking place in Singapore? Alex wonders if it might have to do with Singapore's impressive economic development over the last twenty years. “If life is pretty good,” asks Au, “is there a need for freedom?” On a closing note, Alex adds that he understand the need for anonymity among online activists, but that anonymity usually doesn't lead to social change, and that activists should be encouraged to use their real names and stand up to repressive governments.

691AF8D1-3458-4A28-A5F6-3821DB9412A9.jpgOiwan Lam describes a court case which was brought against her by Hong Kong's Obscene Articles Tribunal for posting a photograph of a shirtless woman covered in leaves [Not work safe.]. Oiwan's case has been covered in detail by Rebecca MacKinnon in a three post series.

Amine also started his talk out with videos to show how online citizen media is spreading awareness about government corruption throughout Morocco. This video shows a police officer collecting bribes from passing cars.

Of course, it only spreads awareness when YouTube isn't being blocked like it briefly was in 2007. Other sites that have been blocked in Morocco include Google Maps, Livejournal, OpenDNS, Anonymizer, and Google Earth. Amine says the Moroccan government is ‘allergic’ to all website which allow for user-generated content which it cannot control. This is most famously exemplified, of course, in the arrest of Fouad Mourtada for creating a fake Facebook identity of Crown Prince Moulay Rachid. Amine says that it is typical of the Moroccan government's ignorance about the internet that when Mourtada was being interrogated he was asked by he invented Facebook.

Finally, Hamid Tehrani of Global Voices filled in for Mehdi Mohseni and offered an overview of censorship in Iran. He starts off with a slide of what National Geographic looks like from within Iran. While censorship has always existed in Iran, notes Tehrani, it has been stepped up in the past three years both online and off. Now most social networking sites are blocked, including content-rich sites like YouTube and Flickr. Interestingly, anti-Bush and liberal blogs from the US like Juan Cole and the Huffington Post are also blocked in Iran. This has led to innovative tools from anti-censorship activists like Hamed Saber's Access Flickr! Firefox extension.

Many of the questions for the speakers focused on how to get more internet users interested in and involved in the anti-censorship movement. How do you make anti-censorship an issue which attracts as much attention as celebrity and technology news? What role does the diaspora community play? How do you try to promote an atmosphere which encourages active participation over self-censorship? These were all mostly open-ended questions, which generated some speculation from the speakers (eg. governments can discredit diaspora communities as out of touch), but no concrete answers.

If you are interested in issues of censorship and citizen media, make sure to subscribe to Global Voices Advocacy.

Originally posted on GlobalVoices Summit 08


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  • Suffering Groups


    Dear Sir
    From 1972 after independent many of the Bangladeshi Citizens started to Established Industries investing family resources & adopting innovative technology as SELF EARNER & to create job opportunity for million of unemployed youth for achieving economic freedom. And Government also started to help these growing PRIVATE SECTOR INDUSTRIES having fund from International Loan giving Agencies, through different Bank. From 1979.
    But the Industrial Entrepreneurs becomes victims of deep rooted conspiracy & Anti Propaganda .The Bank Official refrain themselves from ascertaining production capacity of imported machineries and to provide required working capital loan in time extending total non-cooperation, negligence or even to receive back their money if any Industrial Entrepreneur decided to pay back the loan amount so as to jeopardize the Government Policy of privatizations.
    This way Thousands and Hundreds of Industries of Medium and Small Type of Private Sector of Bangladesh have been destroyed by Bank Officials .

    Due to Such conspiracy & negligence’s , Non Banking Activities of Bank Official & Policy Maker, most of the these Industries have became inoperative & have lost their Cash Capital, Expatriate Capabilities, and helpless victims of such deep rooted conspiracy having similarity having no legal protections .
    In 1992 &1996 the Sick Industries Rehabilitation Cell were formed by GOVERNMENT OF BANGLADESH & have Identified and Registered these Industries as SICK INDUSTRIES declaring not as defaulter but victims of Violation of Contract, Negligence, Fraudulent Activities, Malpractices of Bank Officials including Policy Maker due to lack of Accountability .which are no more hidden matter . But unfortunately the SICK INDUSTRIES REHABILITATION CELL are now closed.
    Although The INDUSTRIAL ENTERPRENEUR of Bangladesh are looking desperately for JUSTICE but the same have been closed for unknown reason.
    Industrial Entrepreneur of Bangladesh are completely deprive of Legal Right due to enactment ARTHA RIN ACT ACT on 1989 and Bankruptcy Act on 1997 treating the INDUSTRIAL ENTRPRENEURS OF PRIVATE SECTOR as like as SLAVE of Primitive Age.

    But these laws are not applicable in Nationalized Sector where Billions of Dollars are invested with no result. Total outstanding Defaulted Bank Loan are about 60 to 70 % lying with Government Sector / Nationalized Concern ,
    And less then 10 % Bank loan lying with Small & Medium Size Industries of Private Sector & Bank Official can explain well about the balance of the remaining out standing Loan.


    INDUSTRIAL ENTREPRENEUR OF PRIVAT SECTOR CAMN NOT CLAIM ANY COMPENSATION OR SET OFF on the Suit filed by the Bank Official or Loan Giving Agencies FOR VIOLATION OF CONTRACT, NEGLEGIENCES, MALPRACTICES, including fraudulent activities of Bank officials instead of huge loss and damages .

    As a result CONDITION OF SICK / DISTRESSED INDUSTRIES are in deplorable condition due to lack of accountability of Bank Official / Policy Maker & due to restriction as per SECTION NO 18 ( 2) & ( 3 ) of ARTHA RIN ACT allowing total indemnity to Bank Official / Loan Giving Agencies . These have been done to hide out existing high profile malpractices, corruption and negligence as per opinion of Expert Personals at organizational level depriving the Industrial Entrepreneur from Justice.
    Industrial Entrepreneur have no legal right to protect themselves and from the oppression of Bank Official & Policy Maker which are no more hidden matter rather a part of deep rooted conspiracy till date and also from OPPRESSIVE LAW

    Bank official have given absolute Indemnity for Violation of Contract , Negligence Malpractices & Fraudulent Activities Industrial Entrepreneurs can file a separate suit for compensation in separate civil Court creating more complicacy for life long litigation WITH OF NO RESULT due to restriction to obstruct or resist any order / decree of ARTHA RIN ACT / COURT by any other DECREE OR ORDER OF OTHER COURT or even of by HIGHER COURT. THE RIGHT OF EQUITY OF LAW HAVE COMPLETELY BEEN DENIED TO THE INDUSTRIAL ENTREPRENEUR OF PRIVATE SECTOR.

    Sections 12, 12 ( khan ) 18 ( 2 ) & (3 ) 19, 20, 21, 34,40, 41, 42, 44, 47 and 50 of ARTHA RIN ACT are directly repressive types violating of ARTICLE NO : 8, 15, 26 and 27 of BANGLADESH CONSTITUTION and self contradictory to the policy of Government to resist Malpractices and Corruption and Privatization programmed ax Mentioned in Industrial Policy

    Now there are no other alternative way but to draw the kind attention of Concerned Authority Including International Community / Organizations seeking help for JUSTICE to save & protect the OWNER OF SICK OR DISTRESSED INDUSTRIES OF Bangladesh under Private Sector, including their properties from such deep rooted conspiracy and oppressive laws as well to protect the interest of large number of workers, staffs of the Private Sector and also for CHANGE of such oppressive laws to restore Accountability of Bank Official / Loan Giving Agencies including Policy Maker to ensure for National Interest

    ( A ) – Humble appeal before the Government of Bangladesh to kindly allow Industrial Entrepreneur to claim Set Off or compensation on suit filed by the Bank or loan Giving Agencies. or allow to Run Compensation Suit Simultaneously with suits file by Bank Officials under ARTHA RIN ACT with equal opportunity and equal right.

    ( B ) – All suits of Artha Rin Court may kindly be transferred to Civil Commercial Court providing Equal Right and Opportunity to prove and fix up the actual responsibility .

    (C)- Considering the Heavy loss and Damages of Government Registered and Identified SICK INDUSTRIES of 1992 & 1996 of Private Sector since last 25 years due to Non-Banking Activities of Bank Officials and Policy Maker may kindly be allowed 100 % weaver of all type of Bank loan liabilities to minimize their heavy loss and damages. .

    ( D )- The system of mortgage of Land & Properties from the Industrial Entrepreneur by Bank or any Loan Giving Agencies as Securities are mostly responsible for Malpractices and ever growing Corruption including Fraudulent Activities in Banking Sector, which are now proven matter and may kindly be completely abolished at earliest possible time to ESTABLISH ACCOUNTABILITY and check Malpractices, Fraudulent Activities which are now growing by large in Banking Sector or other Loan Giving Agencies.

    ( E ) – And the above mentioned Sections 12, 12 ( khan ) 18 ( 2 ) & (3 ) 19, 20, 21, 34,40, 41, 42, 44, 47 and 50 of ARTHA RIN ACT may kindly be abolished immediately to restore accountability & check against existing Negligence , Malpractices & Fraudulent Activities of Banking Sector.

    (F) – And Section 28 ( Ka ) of BANKING COMPANY of 2001 which explain WRITTEN OFF does not mean Weaver were enacted to misguide the International Community & Bangladesh National so as to serve the interest of the Vested Group & to hide the above

    ( G ) – It would be an extreme favors if your good self kindly collect the PRINTED COPIES OF THE ABOVE MENTION LAWS for confirmation of above mentioned facts .& to help the Suffering Groups by circulating this appeal among Honorable Member of your Organization and Partner’s Organizations & to Publish in WEBSITES or News Bulletin or News Media, Electronic Media of your territory to bring to the knowledge of Concern Authority including International COMMUNITY OR ORGANIZATIONS working for HUMAN RIGHT & FUNDAMENTAL / Democratic Right of People for immediate help and support to protect the Owner of the Sick Industries / Distressed Industries of Bangladesh and their properties from such OPPRESSIVE LAWS for which they all would be ever grateful as well for change of all types of oppressive laws restoring accountability at all organization of Bangladesh.

    ********* N.B. the Summery of above mentioned Section of Arthatha Rin Act at a Galance:

    (A)- In section 18 ( 2 ) & ( 3 ) Defendant or Owner of Industries will not be able to claim any set – off or to make counter claim against the Bank or Bank Official nor will be allowed to claim any Compensation by submitting any Suit against Bank ( Plaintiff ) analogously or simultaneously in Artha Rin Court due to violation of contract, fraudulence activities including negligence, malpractices of Bank officials.
    (B)- Section 21: Settlement Conference between Borrower and Bank is a misnomer of Law of Arbitration or just to divert the attention of common people in the name arbitration or to make everybody fool .
    (C) -As Per Section 19 (6) of Artha Rin Act of 2003 no suits can be declared to be dismissed or discharged for default or above mentioned fault of Bank Official. As per Section 20 regarding any order or proceedings of Artha Rin Act can not be raised to Higher Court or to any Other Superior Authority without paying 50 % of claimed or Decretal Amount if the order is totally misleading or against any law or illegal one even .
    (D) – As per Section 34 Defendant or the Owner of Industries in Artha Rin Adalat Case can be put to the Jail for compelling or forcing him to pay the Bank Money without considering the fault or negligence’s of Bank Official without allowing him to proof the matter of violation of contract, fraudulence activities , negligence, malpractices of Bank officials. V- As per section 41 and 42 -The Owner of Industries are not allowed to file any appeal or revision to High Court or Superior Court against any order of Artha Rin Court without paying 50 % of the claimed amount or Decretal amount in advance , But the Bank Official are not require to pay any amount in advance in the Higher Court, allowing A Great Disparity of Law and Justice.
    (E) – Under section 47 and 50 , The learned Court under Artha Rin Act of 2003 have been bared to make any exemption of principal loan amount for Violation of Contract , Negligence’s Malpractices, including fraudulent activities or any fault of the bank official uni laterally

    (F)- Section 12 ( Kha ) Imposed a bar for filling write petition to Higher Court which are direct violation of human right and constitutional right of the citizen and reflects the negative attitude of Policy Maker and the Law Maker .

    Suffering Groups of Industrial Entrepreneurs of Bangladesh

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