In countries like Burma, where independent journalism has been crushed, blogging has opened a vital avenue for news and created some unlikely reporters. Maung Thura is a popular comedian and democracy activist known by his stage name, Zarganar. Angered by inadequate government relief efforts after a cyclone in May 2008, he helped organize video reporting of the devastated areas and blogged about it. He is now serving a fifty-nine-year prison term on multiple charges, including violations of the Television and Video Act.
In this case, at least the blogger was indicted directly for what he posted. CPJ’s archives are filled with research showing that governments use a broad palette of charges ranging from minor violations of bureaucratic regulations to sedition against critical writers, broadcasters, and photographers in all media, designed to divert attention from their journalism. Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai is serving thirty months in jail for tax evasion. His conviction followed his critical reporting on the government’s handling of a territorial dispute with China.
In Uzbekistan, online journalist Salidzhon Abdurakhmanov, who reports on human rights and social issues, has been charged with illegal drug possession—a trumped up accusation meant to silence him, according to his supporters. Iranian blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi wrote a post questioning Iran’s support for the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah. That was enough to earn him thirty months in prison for insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 revolution. Mirsayafi never got to serve out his sentence: he died in Tehran’s Evin prison in unexplained circumstances in March this year.
In authoritarian states, bloggers are in the vanguard of defenders of freedom of expression, often filling a vacuum left by the official press. Technology is churning up the twentieth century media landscape, burying rigid distinctions between journalists and non-journalists. Anyone who uses this new technology to disseminate news or opinion at risk to their life or liberty deserves our support.
“Chaos is among the characteristics of the blogosphere,” says Kalima’s Réjiba. “But we must acknowledge that the other characteristics are bravery and a real thirst for freedom.”
Read Pintak and Fouda’s piece here.