Sure, you’ve probably heard of a few big cases of bloggers being sued or held up to professional standards of journalism that they spectacularly failed to meet, but did you also know that around the world there are over 60 bloggers currently behind bars for writing a lousy blog? The sad truth is that this state of affairs is getting worse rather than better.
Here are the main places where blogging can make you a criminal.
Thailand – 0. Ok, so things aren’t too out of hand yet for bloggers in Thailand. Last year Praya Pichai was detained under the Computer Crime Act of the country and detained for 12 days facing up to 10 years in prison. The charges were subsequently dropped after international pressure. Things aren’t too bad for bloggers in Thailand compared to the other countries below, but it is definitely getting worse. And let’s face it, there is plenty of fodder for government criticism in the land of smiles.
Saudi Arabia – 0. Although there are currently no bloggers in jail as far as we know in the kingdom, Fouad al-Frahan was detained without charge for 137 days earlier in the year “because he violated the customs of the kingdom.” Calling for democratic reforms and sounding off against corruption isn’t going to get you too many friends among the authorities over there. He also blogged about some guys that the Saudis had jailed for terrorism, claiming the charges were fabricated. Fouad reported that he was well treated while in custody, but he hasn’t started blogging again. No surprise there really. Here’s the Free Fouad website.
Egypt – 1. Abdel Kareem Soliman enjoyed the distinction of being the first Egyptian prosecuted under his country’s laws against insulting Islam, sedition and insulting President Muburak – the country’s despotic leader. All of this for referring on his blog to al-Azhar University, at which he was a student, as a “university of terrorism.” He also referred to Muburak as a dictator which doesn’t go down so well in the land of the Pharoahs. There is now a movement to campaign on behalf of Abdel who blogged under the pseudonym, Kareem Amer, which can be found at the Free Kareem website.
Burma – 2. In Burma, things are worse. The government has the country locked down so hard that barely anyone can get on the internet due to government restrictions or just plain poverty, but they have still managed to do what most other authoritarian countries have not – actually imprison a blogger. Nay Phone Latt, an internet cafe owner and blogger, committed the grievous crime of having messages in his inbox that were disrespectful of the government.
Syria – 5. When he started criticising the Syrian secret service, blogger Tariq Biassi may not have thought it would end in a three year jail term. The 24 year old was found guilty of weakening the state and undermining national morale. We guess that the irony of that second charge hasn’t quite caught up with the Syrian secret police. The problem for Syrian bloggers is that the state has decreed that all website owners are to keep records of the authors of stories even though the country’s constitution theoretically grants freedom of speech for writers.
That wasn’t much of a protection for Habib Saleh either. According to Amnesty, there is no information on his whereabouts after his arrest and they fear for him being tortured. You can find some of his best work at Elaph.
Then there’s Firas Saad, a poet who was bringing down the Syrian state machine sonet by sonet. You know things are getting tough when a country is afraid of haiku. He went to the
clink for four years in April of this year for the same charges as Tariq. You can read more about Firas at Free Syria.
Vietnam – 9. The great thing about the Vietnamese is that they won’t even try to hide their contempt of bloggers behind laws that are even remotely related to blogging. For example, Nguyen Hoang Hai who blogs under the pseudonym Dieu Cay was last month jailed for tax fraud. Reporter Without Borders condemned the trial and conviction as “trumped up” and “completely unfounded.”
Not to worry – Nguyen will have 8 other blogging buddies to keep him company in jail. In fact vietnam is a clear second in terms of incarcerated bloggers in the world.
China – 50. It’s concerning that the fastest growing internet population in the world comes from the country that is most likely to put its internet users in jail. Perhaps more worrying is the issue of western companies’ complicity in at least a few of those jailings in order to court favour with the authorities who control access to such a huge market. In fact general censorship of the internet relies on censorship technology developed by western companies and western search engines companies have been known to hand over information that has led to the arrest of those critical of the government in their online writings.
And it doesn’t seem like a lot of Chinese cyber-dissidents report the same good treatment in jail that those in Saudi Arabia have – in fact one blogger named Liu Di (who wrote as “Stainless Steel Mouse”) was held in solitary confinement for a year after she was arrested back in 2002. She was eventually released, but but almost 50 other bloggers remain in Chinese jails. Group punishment is also not out of the question as human rights activist, Hu Jia found out when his family was placed under house arrest. RSF keeps a reasonable list of current inmates in China.
So with that, China is the clear winner of the most dangerous place for bloggers, but special mention should also be made of Malaysia, Jordan and Libya who weren’t mentioned on this list, but have all put bloggers in jail.
By spreading the word about the plight of bloggers, it seems some pressure can be applied to the authorities responsible for these abuses of power so consider blogging, writing, emailing or bringing these issues to the attention of others on the internet.