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Friday, February 23, 2007

Bloggers Rights

It is interesting to see Bloggers getting so much attention, free of the self censorship of corporate mainstream media self censorship, Blogs are raw unedited information that seem to scare the hell out of those in authority. At times that fear can be justified, yesterday Google shut down the CYFs blog after some brave munchkin anonymously posted a violent threat to Sue Bradford, a Green MP currently wrestling an angry and at times violent pro-smacking lobby group as she pushes through legislation to remove legal defences for hitting children. I hope we all can appreciate the irony of pro-smackers threatening to punch someone in the face, in fact every reason why we should ban smacking has been proved by the way the pro-smacking lobby groups have violently gone about voicing their opposition, if that’s the angry, violent kind of person smacking produces, let’s ban it now!

But what we consider acceptable censorship of blogs, other countries take further. Egypt has just imprisoned a blogger for insulting Islam and the president. Where do we draw the line here? I’m very much in favour of what Sue is doing and I’m amazed at how reactionary the opposition to her has been. That’s why when I first heard about the threat and the call to post her home address details on the CYFs site, I honestly thought some of those pro-smackers may well be nutty enough to have a go at her, and so I was relieved that the site was pulled down, however I find what Egypt is doing, which because of their authoritarian anti-democratic draconian laws is completely legal, totally appalling.

When deciding to censor do we need to look at why we are censoring? The idea of Free Speech isn’t freely speaking is it, surely it is speech that is free – what the brave anonymous poster on the CYFs blog did was use his voice to deny another of hers. Can speech that only seeks to deny the voice in others be free? Or is speech that is free, ie speech that is free from denying the voice in others our goal? When the Egyptian blogger criticized the Islamic University and called the leader a dictator, did he deny the other voice or did he describe it? I think his criticism is valid and doesn’t seek to deny the other, he seeks to reform or change, where as the anonymous poster on CYFs wanted to assassinate Sue, he (and based on the intensely misogynistic postings on that site, I’m making the guess that the anonymous blogger is male) wanted to violently smash her face in. Is violence the threshold as we attempt to find new rules to new ways of communicating? Are we drawing a line when it comes to threats of violence, but by banning that angry voice do we only push it further underground?

It is an on going issue this digital repression, Amnesty International started a new campaign last year as the number of Bloggers being put in prison grew increasingly under repressive regimes…

Irrepressible Adj. 1) Impossible to repress or control.
Chat rooms monitored. Blogs deleted. Websites blocked. Search engines restricted. People imprisoned for simply posting and sharing information.

The Internet is a new frontier in the struggle for human rights. Governments – with the help of some of the biggest IT companies in the world – are cracking down on freedom of expression.

Amnesty International, with the support of The Observer UK newspaper, is launching a campaign to show that online or offline the human voice and human rights are impossible to repress.

…. Such regimes need a tight control over the media, and with citizens starting to question and think for themselves, these regimes are obviously very worried, not so much for their personal safety, but more to do with fear of losing their control and influence over society. Perhaps the why each were censored may be the defining ethical line, the CYFs blogger was censored because he threatened to beat a politician up, the Egyptian blogger was censored and imprisoned because he questioned a dictatorship. Both freely speak, but it is only the Egyptian who speaks free of hate. I know which type of Free Speech I think is worth fighting for.

Egypt blogger jailed for 'insult'
An Egyptian court has sentenced a blogger to four years' prison for insulting Islam and the president.
Abdel Kareem Soliman's trial was the first time that a blogger had been prosecuted in Egypt. He had used his web log to criticise the country's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator. A human rights group called the verdict "very tough" and a "strong message" to Egypt's thousands of bloggers. Soliman, 22, was tried in his native city of Alexandria. He blogs under the name Kareem Amer.A former student at al-Azhar, he called the institution "the university of terrorism" and accused it of suppressing free thought. The university expelled him in 2006 and pressed prosecutors to put him on trial.

'Slap in the face'
During the five-minute court session the judge said Soliman was guilty and would serve three years for insulting Islam and inciting sedition, and one year for insulting Mr Mubarak. Egypt arrested a number of bloggers who had been critical of the government during 2006, but they were all subsequently freed.

Hafiz Abou Saada of the Egyptian Human Rights Organisation called the sentence "a strong message to all bloggers who are put under strong surveillance". The UK-based organisation Amnesty International said the ruling was "yet another slap in the face of freedom for expression in Egypt". Fellow blogger Amr Gharbeia told the BBC it would not stop Egyptian bloggers from expressing opinions as "it is very difficult to control the blogosphere". There have been no reported comments on the sentence from the Egyptian authorities.


At 23/2/07 12:42 pm, Blogger Jon said...

As a moderator on another NZ forum website - the only stuff I censor, is personal and vicious abuse! As far as I'm concerned, if it is an attempt to deny others their voice, then, I'll censor, otherwise,go to it!

At 23/2/07 5:49 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't google have conditions that people have to agree with to if they want google to host their website? I don't know what they are, but I imagine something that's personally abusive and potentially defamatory would not be acceptable.

I never went to the CYFS site because I disagree with the name & shame, post personal addresses approach. It looks like there needs to be more accountability for CYFS and that they need to improve their act. But the approach of CYFS Watch seems like, from what I heard,it was branding people as guilty with no recourse for the accused to respond. And the accused were being put in a dangerous situation by publishing their addresses (if that's what was happening). It hardly seems to me to be in keeping with democracy for people to be proclaimed guilty without having the opportunity to resond and state their case.

And wasn't all this publicly naming of CYFS workers done by people who themselves remained annonymous? It seems to me a bit like a lynch mob with wearing hoods.

I have nothing against a website or posters that criticise CYFs from their personal experience, but the public naming and shaming of workers who can't reply seems to me to be a step to far.

Censorship? Well isn't defamation against the law, at least in most western countries? And aren't website companies like google ultimately the ones that would be held liable?

How does this compare with the Egyptian case? Hmmm... Is it a question of our laws on defamation/lible/slander vs Egyptian laws on insulting Islam?

Well to me the criticising of Islam is insulting a set of beliefs and the criticism is of a powerful institution and its president. The CYFS Watch site probably also criticised the government - that's fair game IMO as is criticism of Bradford's bill.

But the naming of people at CYFYS as far as I'm aware. is of people who have middle level power. Ultimately it's surely their bosses who are accountable if the workers perform poorly? And it's one thing to criticise a politician's policies but another to publicly threaten her with harm and murder. I've always thought standard nettiquette has been attack the things a person says and not the person.

Also the person who criticised the Islamic Institution seems to have made his identity known, whereas, as I understand it, the abusive CYFS Watch posters were anonymous. I read that the person who threatened Bradford said she needed to be accountable for her actions. Yet anonymous posters are not really taking responsibility for their criticisms.

With rights (eg to freedom of speech) come responsibilities. To me the Egytian protester seemed to be acting responsibly while some of the CYFS Watch posters didn't.



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