RSF to hold first 'Online Freedom of Expression Day'

Bloggers in nine "Internet enemy countries" are invited to participate in a worldwide online demonstration on Wednesday, organized by Reporters without Borders (RSF).
An Internet café in Egypt. (Photo courtesy of the author)

PARIS/BEIRUT, March 10, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is launching the world's first ‘International Online Free Expression Day’ on Wednesday March 12, the organization announced in a press statement.

The event is organized under the tutelage of UNESCO and aims to denounce government web censorship and demand more online press freedom through Internet-based "demonstrations."

It also seeks to spread awareness about the world's sixty-three known "cyber-prisoners," most of which are in China.

Clothilde Le Coz of RSF's Internet Desk told MENASSAT that while it is not the first time the organization has put on rallies for freedom of expression on the Internet, Wednesday will mark the first occasion for Internet users to create their own "virtual demos."

"This year, it's about a real demonstration taking place on the Internet. Web users who wish to participate can create a virtual identity and a slogan to place in a symbolic place in their city. For example, Chinese bloggers will be able to virtually demonstrate in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Wednesday," Le Coz said.   

RSF is calling in particular on Internet users in what it calls "Internet enemy countries" – nine states which RSF says impose the most restrictions on free speech on the Internet – to participate in 24-hour long "cyber-demos" on Wednesday. Users will be able to create and personalize banners for their blogs and websites that denounce government censorship and restrictions on Internet practices.

Last year, the advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi created an interactive map of repressive Internet states around the globe where users could click to make the "Internet black holes" disappear. 

This time the organization hopes to increase the pressure on governments that seek to pull the plug on free speech online. 

Two out of RSF's nine "Internet enemy countries" are in the Arab world, namely Egypt and Tunisia.

Egypt was named an "Internet enemy" last year after cyber-dissident Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years in prison for defaming Islam and President Mubarak on his blog. Egyptian political bloggers claim they are subject to constant intimidation, harassment, and sometimes event arrest for their online activities.

Tunisia's Internet policy is "among the most repressive in the world," RSF says. All Internet cafes are reportedly monitored and there is widespread web censorship in the country. RSF's own web site is inaccessible to Tunisian Internet users. Several opposition bloggers have been sentenced to prison for criticizing the government, among them Mohammed Abbou who was jailed in 2005 for denouncing Tunisian President Ben Ali in an online newsletter.

Concurrently with Wednesday's activities, RSF will publish its newest list of the world's "Internet enemies" along with a guidebook on censorship and safety measures for cyber-dissidents.

Confusion remained among some bloggers, however, who were unsure of how to participate in event.

“It's not clear yet what this cyber-manifestation is about. I wanted to participate in it and put up a banner on my blog but I haven't received any clear instructions from RSF," one Egyptian blogger told MENASSAT. 

RSF has scheduled online demonstrations in Burma, China, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

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