Protecting online free speech in countries the world—and GV—doesn't pay enough attention to

Problem Statement

GV continues to push hard for the release of our friends the Zone9 Bloggers in Ethiopia, as it does for other individuals and groups in other parts of the world. How can we expand these kinds of activities to include other countries where free speech is under threat but that don't get much coverage or attention?

Desired Outcomes

1. To place real faces of threatened bloggers on a map about the censorship and press freedom for example: or

2. Make a list of free speech campaigns from different countries and see success cases, what has worked and what not, etc.

3. To work with tourists or traveling agents in countries that have little or no knowledge about free speech threats in other countries. This will help in educating them about the grave situation that other people in other countries face due to free speech infringements.

4. To involve the governed, discuss with them about this threat not only in other countries but also in theirs as well. Narration of histories of free speech violations can be used as example.

5. Working with the governments in countries where there are violations of free speech. This will take two ways: legitimate protests and talks. Negotiations are a form of cooperation with the government because that would necessarily mean making concessions.

6. Based on (5) above, what are the merits of concessions with governments that impede free speech? This raises more questions than answers: once political prisoner is free, authorities usually exact to stop write articles (or human rights activity or whatever). So the question is: should prisoners agree? Is such a result good for them? It might be ‘good’ for them personally because they are free and with their loved ones. But is this good for freedom speech?

7. On the other hand, there are a couple of ways to avoid the ban. One can write under the pseudonym. Even when journalist is forced to leave the country, he/she can gather the data with the help of relatives and friends and continue writing. In this case he/she can even tell more about the freedom of speech in their country, because he/she is in no danger. So should we cooperate and can this attract attention all over the world?

8. However, arriving at a compromise with a tyrannical government is usually impossible. In some cases dialogue is a dead end. Some governments are so repressive and powerful that they do not even listen to people who want to dialogue. Or some will use dialogue just as a means to buy themselves time.

9. Thus protests are the only feasible option. However, protests cost money and that means having a viable source of funds to drive a social movement. How and where do we get the money?

10. We are a community with diverse orientation, which in itself is a great strength. Thus, how do we tap into this? Perhaps it might be safer for a GVer in Mozambique to spearhead a global campaign on free speech violation in Nigeria than in Mozambique? In that he/she can work on information any Nigerian passes on to him, protect his source but still speak about injustice in another country ‘safely’.

11. Also we can build up new networks and/or consolidate old ones with similar organisations – for instance, “Syria Untold”. This will help us tell stories about free speech threats in countries where GV has little or no presence.

12. Zone9Bloggers: One of the best things we could do for these Zone9 Bloggers is publicizing their case as much as possible. If you look at cases like Kony 2012 and Boko Haram, viral videos and stories about these men has led to worldwide manhunts for their prosecution. While cooperation with the Ethiopian government is crucial in these types of situations, however, Ethiopia's controversial anti-terrorism law is firm legislation that the government has demonstrated their intent to stand by.

In addition, if these bloggers agree to never write these articles again, then what sought of justice would this be for freedom of speech? It becomes obvious that we are insulting the human rights issues which got these men in jail in the first place.

Conclusions Reached

1. Look at places where there’s problem against freedom of speech. Add them… etc.

• I like this idea. What if this group developed a map with photos and profiles (short descriptions of cases with basic facts – timeline, charges, etc) of ten jailed netizens who have received little attention online? A tacky name for the map could be: “10 Jailed Bloggers you’ve Never Heard of.” Cases from Central America, SS Africa, and Central Asia could all be useful here. I’m sure the Advox list could help compile this.
• We got quite an encouraging feedback from the Advox list. Hopefully we’ll add this to the “Threatened Voices Map”….

2. Ethan: at this stage of the project, looking at GV posts one can see the weak ones. Look at the list at countries we know we are not very strong. E.g. Portuguese speaking Africa. Do we have a correspondent there? What can we do to write more about these places?

• E.g. in the Gambia and Equatorial Guinea where there is so much violation of free speech. One of the problems there are that there not so much bloggers but do we still keep silent? Or do we recruit? Vietnam is also a medium attention country, lots of bloggers but still little attention.
• Another way is to look at the maps, e.g. the MIT map of media coverage of the world (Media Meter).
• The third thing is to look at Freedom House, and see the less advantageous media covered countries, e.g. Moldova is a very low media attention country.

3. Sejoy: how about sharing our content with mainstream media? Nothing wrong but Ethan said that we don’t want to be writing same as mains stream media.

4. Protecting our sources: establish a relationship with a blogger, allows the person to post anonymously, e.g. the Zimbabwe Pundit who had written a lot but Ethan does not even know the person. Security training for ‘anonymous’ bloggers there and helping the person leave the country when there’s a threat to his/her life.

5. Looking at the ‘weird laws’ before people are arrested under them: how do we look at these laws before they’re used against netizens. How to we study these things and make news about them before harm is caused through them? However, we have to look at the context of these laws, for each one varies.

6. Do we have a steady source of information about bloggers and journalist in problem? We use that as a prompt to write about freedom of speech or violation or rights in these countries. E.g. with the attempted coup in Gambia: there’s certainly a clamp down after that incident. But sadly, GV has written little – or nothing – about it.

7. Having a dedicated person in Advox whose principal responsibility will be to sort out lists of bloggers or journalists who are threatened. Get that to the attention of the community and then we decide which case we can align with or promote.

Next steps

Already outlined above

Submitted by: Nwachukwu Egbunike