News / USA

Democracy Activists Look at Digital Opportunities, Challenges

Oleg Kozlovsky, Issac Mao, Ernesto Hernandez Busto use the Skype technology to participate in the recent conference on the Internet and dissidents
Oleg Kozlovsky, Issac Mao, Ernesto Hernandez Busto use the Skype technology to participate in the recent conference on the Internet and dissidents

Multimedia

Mike O'Sullivan

The power of digital devices, such as mobile phones equipped with cameras, was seen in protests that followed the disputed Iranian election in June, 2009.  Postings on such websites as Facebook and Twitter brought thousands to the streets, and digital images from Tehran fueled sympathetic protests around the world.

A recent conference in Dallas looked at the Internet as a tool for democracy activists, and at the challenges facing Internet commentators, or bloggers.

The power of the Web and portable digital devices was seen in Iran last year. It was seen a year earlier in protests in Latin America and other parts of the world against kidnappings by the Colombian rebel group FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Dissident bloggers involved with some of the protests met with Internet experts, and current and former U.S. officials, at a new center and institute named for former U.S. President George W. Bush.  Mr. Bush opened the conference, held at Southern Methodist University.

The cyber-dissidents were joined by two bloggers unable to attend because of flight cancellations following the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland.  They took part by way of the Internet site Skype. "If they arrest one, 10 more bloggers become dissidents," said Russian blogger Oleg Kozlovsky. He described a growing movement of dissidents in his country who post blogs on the Internet, despite the threat of arrest.

Another blogger joined the discussion from China.

"There is no single person can be easily targeted," said Isaac Mao. He said the Chinese censors are not able to crack down on all of the growing dissident voices on the web.

Harvard University researcher Ethan Zuckerman says Chinese censors aggressively block content they disapprove of. "But what they do, which is much more powerful and really much more sinister in some ways, is encourage the development of alternative platforms," he saiod

In March, the worldwide search firm Google stopped censoring its site in China and moved its servers to Hong Kong, but Chinese internet users can easily access the government-favored search site Baidu.com.  China blocks the videos from Youtube, but provides an alternative site, without political content, called Youku.com.

Censorship strategies vary from country to country.  Robert Guerra of the private watchdog organization Freedom House says the Iranian government, faced with images of protests, restricted bandwidth to slow the speed of Internet videos.

"What we've also seen since the election of last June is that they've increased their technical sophistication, so much so that there's real-time surveillance and repression.  People that post a message online or send a message through their mobile phone are tracked down within hours and taken into custody," he said.

Iranian blogger Mohsen Sazegara now lives in America but has felt the long arm of the Iranian regime and its supporters.  Sazegara was one of the founders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard before becoming disillusioned with the Iranian government.  Now he posts videos sent by activists in Iran and says his websites have been attacked.  He believes the group responsible is linked to the Revolutionary Guard.

"They posted a pamphlet instead of my website that said the Cyber Army of Iran has hacked this website and at the same time, they removed all my home videos from Youtube and succeeded to control one of my three Facebook pages," he said.

Blogger Ahed Al Hendi was arrested and jailed in his native Syria because of his online postings.  He now lives in the Uinted State and supports democracy activists worldwide.  He says that in Syria, bloggers still face persecution. "I heard the news of arresting a girl.  She's a high school student.  She's 19 years of age.  Instead of being at her school, she's now in the prison.  Tens of bloggers remain in prison right now in Syria, subject to ill treatment, torture, and they have no access to their lawyer," he said.

Venezuelan activist Rodrigo Diamanti writes blogs critical of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and Diamanti helped to form a group called Un Mundo Sin Mordaza - A World Without Censorship. "We organized and we have representation in more than 20 countries around the world.  And we all write about the importance of freedom of speech as a fundamental right.  We understand that once you lose this principal right, you will start losing the other human rights," he said.

Cuban Internet activist Ernesto Hernandez Busto blogs from Spain, and he sees growing cooperation between traditional dissidents and Internet bloggers.  He says the partnership bodes well for change in Castro's Cuba.

Colombia activist Oscar Morales Guevara says his experience organizing millions of marchers against the FARC on the Internet site Facebook changed his life. "When we did that and when we saw the power of people organizing things, we decided that we would continue the effort and try to speak up," he said.

David Keyes, director of the organization CyberDissidents.org, is critical of countries like China and Iran, and also of some U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia.  He says the Gulf state limits Internet freedom and has sentenced a man to death for his work in Lebanon as a television psychic.  

But Keyes says digital technologies have changed the political landscape in repressive societies. "The Internet has given democratic dissidents power that's unprecedented in human history, literally the ability to talk to millions of people across the world with a few clicks.  At the same time, there may be deleterious effects to over-reliance on technology," he said.

He says the Internet cannot replace the face-to-face contacts and real-world activism that political change requires.   But Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard says the digital technologies can create a virtual public arena where people living under repressive governments can exchange ideas. "They're not able to write in the newspapers.  They're not able to hold meetings in public.  I think of Egypt, where you literally can't assemble more than five people without getting arrested for holding an illegal demonstration.  But the Internet represents a digital public space," he said.

An Iranian blogger based in Toronto, Arash Kamangir, says the Internet is a place for international conversations, which he thinks most Iranians want.

Internet experts say emerging issues involving the web are difficult.  Robert Guerra of Freedom House worries about  initiatives by democratic countries such as Australia to censor objectionable content.  Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard says the same high tech tools that protect dissident bloggers can also be used by terrorists to conceal their identities.

You May Like

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop illegal money flow from continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid