NGOs: Defending the voices

At the end of our first day of open work, GV founder Rebecca MacKinnon put an important idea on the table: censorship is not only a political or technological problem; it is also a social problem. Thus, it is important to encourage bloggers to resist; to keep blogging. In this last task, the NGOs are one of the most valuable resources for bloggers who need help to keep blogging actively for their causes. The main question for the session was how NGOs can help more effectively.

Elijah Zarwan, from Human Rights Watch pointed out some of the tasks an NGO must follow in order to efficiently help people in need. Taking his experience in Egypt as a start, and quoting certain Egyptian bloggers, he made clear that an NGO must inform people about their rights and train them to communicate, encourage local support, and connect with people around the world. These bloggers also underlined the importance of spreading the word about the abuses taking place in Egypt.

Thus, as an NGO, to help repressed activists is a matter of commitment. NGOs and activists should work together instead of working for each other. They need to listen carefully, and listen to the right people: there should also be contact with people that don't speak English and who live outside the big cities. NGOs should also support activists, work on prevention, try to find allies inside the government and respond as quickly as possible.

Internet has changed a lot the problems surrounding freedom of expression in many ways. As more people become authors, activists, and information sources; there are more voices to be heard and to be protected. According to Clothilde Le Coz, from Reporters Without Borders, a new space for advocacy for journalists has opened with Internet activism. This NGO specializes in putting pressure on governments in order to make sure they comply with the commitments taken. For them, blogger participation is the main source of information. Without them, their work would become fiercely difficult. They strongly advise bloggers to work on prevention and not wait until censorship affects them directly to fight against.

Nasser Weddady gave interesting examples of how bloggers and NGOs have worked together in order to make people aware of censorship situations happening in countries apparently far away. He illustrated with the example of Jane Novak, who carried important work as an activist against the Yemeni government from her home. The main question for this activist defender was “why should we care?” and underlined, apart from the need of defending Human Rights in any country of the world, the importance of connections among governments and how putting pressure on the authorities of the West can be helpful for activists in the East.

The NGO Tactical Tech, represented by Stephanie Hankey presented the tools they use to help activists through technology in order to remain anonymous. Also, they work with marginalized communities in order to make them aware of their rights and to communicate safely. So far, they have trained 1500 advocates and independent journalists. One of the most important tasks is based on information, especially in what it comes to the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of activist, in order to help people to take their own decisions. They put the light on the hidden challenge of blogging anonymously.

Finally, Antony Loewenstein made an interesting summary on censorship in countries such as his native Australia, a place in which censorship takes another shape. Who are the ones to decide what is convenient or not in the Web? This points out the problems that are merging when society and Internet users decide to censor the content on the Internet. He focused on the current Australian situation and in the Asia Pacific region and how NGOs can efficiently protect online activists and analyzed the prejudices and preconceptions in the West around repressive goverments. “I’ve long believed that activism must be mainstreamed to be truly effective, rather than just the concern of a minority. Our job as journalists, activists, NGOs, bloggers or concerned citizens is to bring the stories of the world to a media that welcomes localism and shuns complexity. These rules of the game are ripe for change.” At the end, it was clear that one of the main goals for the future of blogger activism will be to find a way to work together and eliminate the dichotomy that separates us, in an absurd way, as Easterners or Westerners.

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