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

Multimedia Obama, Modi Break Nuclear Deal Deadlock

Impasse over liability issues had been stalling bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation; deal reached at start of US president's three-day visit to India More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track 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.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

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