The group Reporters Without Borders has organized what it is calling a 24-hour "Online Internet Protest" to draw attention to Internet censorship in countries such as China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran and North Korea.
The case of Chinese journalist and cyber-dissident Shi Tao is a cautionary tale for Internet users around the world. Last year, the Chinese government sentenced him to 10 years in jail for sending a message to foreign-based websites that Beijing said was top secret.
Lucie Morillon, with the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders, said the group wants to shine the spotlight on government crackdowns on the Internet and its users.
"Reporters Without Borders is organizing, for the first time, the 24-hour online demonstration against Internet censorship,” she said. “Basically, we're calling on Internet users all around the world to go online, to log on to Reporters Without Borders' website, and just to express their support for Internet freedom."
She adds that Internet users who log on to the group's website (www.rsf.org) will find an interactive map that highlights the 13 countries it is labeling "Internet enemies."
"We call them the Internet black holes,” she explained. “And if you want to, you can click on an interactive map of the world, and each time someone is going to click on this map, it's going to [help] make the Internet black holes disappear. Each click will help to change the map's appearance."
Reporters Without Borders will count each click as a vote in its campaign to raise public awareness about Internet restrictions in Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
"We have, of course, North Korea, where there's no Internet,” she added. “We have Cuba, where Fidel Castro has been making sure that most of the people cannot have access to the Internet. We also have countries such as China, which is the biggest prison for cyber-dissidents, and a champion in terms of Internet censorship. A lot of technology has been put together to make sure that information about Tiananmen, or Falun Gong, or human rights, democracy, is being censored."
The campaign also targets the Internet search company, Yahoo!, which has been accused of providing information to the Chinese government that led to the arrest of Shi Tao. Visitors to the website can record messages for the Yahoo! founders.
The company did not respond to requests for comment about the latest demonstration. But at a congressional hearing in February that examined whether U.S. companies are helping the Chinese government censor the Internet, Yahoo!'s senior vice president, Michael Callahan, said his company was just following the laws of China.
"We believe these issues are larger than any one company or any one industry,” he said. “We all face the same struggle between American values and the laws we must obey."
In New York, Reporters Without Borders advertised the campaign on billboards displayed on trucks and bikes that circled the city and handed out fliers.
Also Tuesday, the group is launching an Arabic-language version of its website, which is already available in French, English and Spanish.