Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders is organizing an online protest to denounce Internet censorship in 15 countries around the world. VOA's Brian Wagner reports the protest aims to raise attention to at least 62 people jailed as cyber-dissidents.
Reporters Without Borders is holding the online protest to raise pressure on governments that it lists as Internet enemies, including China, Cuba and Eritrea. The Paris-based group said this year it added Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to the list of countries that tightly restrict Internet use and monitor Web traffic for dissident activity.
The protest at the Web site of Reporters Without Borders (www.rsf.org) allows people around the world to take part in a virtual demonstration which the group says would not be possible in many of the targeted countries.
Clothilde Le Coz, director of the group's Internet freedom desk, says users at the site can join with others around the world to send a message to the targeted governments.
"Pick a slogan, for example 'Free all the cyber-dissidents' or 'Free our Internet' and you will be virtually demonstrating with other demonstrators," she said.
The watchdog group says at least 62 people are in jail around the world because of online dissident activity, and more than 2,600 Web sites were shut down or blocked in the past year.
Le Coz says Reporters Without Borders also publishes a guide to help bloggers and dissidents avoid Internet censorship and publish their information online. But she says security officials, especially in some Asian countries, are increasing their efforts to track banned activity.
"The Chinese government for example knows how people are circumventing the censorship and is trying to find new ways to censor," said Le Coz.
Despite the dangers, many journalists and informal online reporters continue to use the Internet to distribute information. Le Coz points to August protests in Burma, where dissidents and others were able to upload pictures and videos of a police crackdown for use by news organizations abroad.
In Cuba, Internet access is restricted to Web sites on the island, while the use of computers that connect to other countries is limited to foreign tourists.
The restrictions make it very difficult for reporters and dissidents to communicate with rights groups off the island, such as the Cuban Democratic Directorate in Miami.
Janisset Rivero-Gutierrez, the group's national secretary, says says reporters and activists still use the Internet despite the dangers, including laws that impose 20-year prison terms on people who report on certain events in the country.