In Vietnam, a dozen officers burst into Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh’s home and arrested her while she was sleeping alongside her three-year-old daughter.
In Iran, Mahsa Amrabadi, a pregnant women’s rights activist, was arrested after the Iranian presidential elections. She was released on a bail of almost US $200,000.
Around the world, bloggers are being demonised and persecuted for expressing their beliefs. Unfortunately, freedom of speech is taken for granted by most Australians. However, as blogging continues to grow in popularity, some governments are keeping a close eye on its users.
Blog search engine Technorati has indexed 133 million blogs in 81 different languages since 2002. Every 24 hours, Technorati records 900,000 blog posts, and views blogs as ‘integral to the media eco-system’.
Australian feminist blogger Chally says that a blog is a great way to express what wouldn’t be said in mainstream media. ‘Blogging and social activism are perfect bedfellows, I find. How could I not want to join in?’ Her blog has been running since November last year and she feels that the internet is ‘a great outlet that can provide an international, like-minded community’ to correspond with.
Unfortunately, not everyone who wants to express themselves on a blog can. The organization Reporters Without Borders have identified twelve enemies of the internet — Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam — whose governments have all transformed their internet into an intranet.
In these countries, the internet is heavily censored and blogs are monitored for ‘undesirable’ online content. Currently, 70 cyber-dissidents are imprisoned around the world for what they’ve posted online. China has the highest number of detained cyber-dissidents followed by Vietnam and Iran.
Ray Ally is an English graphic designer who has spent half of his working life in Asia. Since moving to China two years ago he started his photography blog. Posting a photo of his life in China each day gives Ally a chance to publish information about his life for family and friends in England to see. ‘I also wanted to reignite my long lost passion for amateur photography,’ he says.
Chinabloglist.org catalogues 525 english language blogs, among roughly 75 million from inside China. They’re about Chinese culture, photography, advertising, travel and business. However, a Reporters Without Borders investigation found that posts, comments or forum entries containing certain words or any criticism of the government, were blocked.
Banned words include “4 June” (the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), ‘human rights’, ‘Taiwan independence’, ‘pornography’ and ‘BBC’. According to some estimates, around 30,000 people are employed to enforce these restrictions by monitoring and censoring internet content.
Iranians face similar censorship. Blogger Fariborz, who writes an English language blog about torture in Iran, says that expressing oneself is a basic human right and that should include blogs. ‘Creating a blog is not hard in Iran but expressing your opinion that criticizes human rights violations, clerics, government, Islam and almost everything that criticizes current situations will get you in serious trouble and sometimes death,’ he says.
There are nearly one million bloggers in Iran and Technorati lists Farsi as one of the top five languages used on the internet. However, all of Iran’s news websites, including blogs, are threatened with termination.
In his book The Blogging Revolution, Anthony Lowenstein describes Iranian internet censorship as erratic. ‘The government blocks untold numbers of key words, including phrases deemed to be sexual or political in nature. But nowhere are these banned terms listed and they’re constantly being changed and updated,’ he writes.
From Lowenstein’s experience, it is also clear that websites are inexplicably blocked and unblocked randomly. ‘On some days, certain political websites from the US were censored, then the next day I could view them clearly,’ he says.
In Egypt, websites are not blocked. However, Egyptian blogger Ahmed Shokeir says that the government monitors some subversive bloggers. ‘Let me say that state security may follow some bloggers in their blogs and sometimes call them for investigations, but they don’t block sites or blogs,’ he says.
Although the Egyptian government is seemingly more lenient than other ‘internet enemies’, access to the internet is restricted. In order to access the wireless network, customers must provide personal information such as address, mobile telephone number and identity card numbers. Some internet café owners also claim to have been ordered by officials to keep records of their customers’ identity card numbers.
‘It is very important to blog and express what you feel and think, especially when you find others to interact with and exchange their views, which will increase your awareness and widen your knowledge as well,’ Shokeir says.
Despite the threat of persecution, there are thousands of brave bloggers like Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Mahsa Amrabadi flouting the repressive rules of their governments to express what is important to them. As Chally says, ‘the more voices out there, the easier it is to communicate with each other and get a balanced view of the world’.
See also our latest ‘100 articles’ selection, ‘2009 was a terrible year for free speech online’.