I'd never heard of CyberDissidents.org until yesterday when I received an e-mail from the organization detailing more than a few instances of the repression of men and women who use(d) the web to spread free discussion of issues that routinely provoke the boot on the human face. The organization focuses on the Muslim world where the struggle for civilization is being waged under the most horrific conditions. In any case, this site brings a bit of light to the West about a region of the world where light is in retreat. Here's an excerpt from the e-mail:
A Word from the Director: David Keyes
Two week ago, a Palestinian blogger was arrested in the West Bank for satirizing Islam. Current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have stressed borders, refugees, recognition, settlements, terror and land--but largely neglected the issue of individual freedom. The mission of CyberDissidents.org is to promote freedom of expression in authoritarian Middle Eastern countries--not to address war and peace. But having met last month privately with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, I feel compelled to offer a few brief thoughts on the conflict.
In the long run, treaties with those who deny their citizens fundamental freedoms are unsustainable. The great dissident Vaclav Havel said it best: “Without free, self-respecting, and autonomous citizens there can be no free and independent nations. Without internal peace, that is, peace among citizens and between the citizens and the state, there can be no guarantee of external peace.” In other words, a nation that terrorizes its bloggers will likely not treat its neighbors much better.
Gaza is controlled by a theocratic, totalitarian government that routinely threatens genocide. Hamas ruthlessly persecutes women, minorities, gays, Christians, atheists and dissidents. The terrorist organization won an election but is acting as a tyrant. Talk of peace with such a group is nonsensical. Despite overseeing economic growth in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority also remains autocratic and repressive, as was demonstrated two weeks ago with the arrest of atheist blogger Waleed Al Husseini.
Peace in the Middle East will only be as strong as the freedom each individual feels to dissent, critique, argue and protest. No matter how hard we try, external peace cannot be fully realized without internal freedom.
Kareem Amer Freed, Speaks!
Kareem Amer, the Egyptian student blogger who has been imprisoned for the past four years, was freed on November 15th. FreeKareem.org is closely monitoring his situation and is a great resource for updates. On his blog, karam903.blogspot.com, Amer wrote about secularism and equality for women. He strongly denounced attacks against Christians in Alexandria that took place in 2005. These blog posts led to his first arrest that October. He spent twelve days in prison and was eventually released, after having his personal items confiscated. Amer was charged with “spreading malicious rumors,” “defaming the president,” “incitement to overthrow the regime,” “incitement to hate Islam,” and “highlighting inappropriate aspects that harm the reputation of Egypt.” He was sentenced to four years in prison. From prison, he sent letters that condemned the ruling party and called for the release of activists in his country. On the night of November 15 - ten days after his actual release date - Amer was finally freed.
Amer spoke on November 24th for the first time since being released at a press conference. He said he will continue his writing and activities and that he still considers himself a secular person. He spoke about his experiences in prison where his only source of news was government run media. Private opposition newspapers were banned and Amer revealed that all of the letters of support sent to him over the years were confiscated by authorities.
Bahraini Blogger on Trial
On September 4th, Ali Abdulemam, the founder of Bahrainonline.org, was arrested by by Bahraini authorities on charges of “diffusing fabricated and malicious news on Bahrain’s internal situation to spread rumours and subvert the Kingdom’s security and stability.” His trial began on Thursday, October 28th, and though Bahrain is often seen as a liberal Gulf state, this case proves that there are still red lines and heavy restrictions on freedom of speech. There has been a lot of support for Abdulemem in the West and we encourage readers to join an online campaign to free Ali on Facebook.
Moroccan Cyberdissident Stands Up for Democracy
19-year-old pro-democracy Moroccan blogger Kacem El Ghazzali contacted CyberDissidents.org moments after receiving death threats on Facebook. The first message that appeared in his inbox stated that El Ghazzali will be slaughtered “like a sheep.” The second, titled “An Appointment,” claimed that the sender will meet El Ghazzali in Elhajeb, a neighborhood close to the blogger’s home. Several days later, El Ghazzali conducted an interview with CyberDissidents.org’s Arabic Coordinator, Ahed Al Hendi, in which he explained the roots of his blogging. He is currently in hiding, and has started a petition with the goal of leaving Morocco for asylum in a Western country. Read the full interview here.