Free speech, bullets and pepper spray

Freedom of expression is still being stifled and eroded across the world…


International Day to End Impunity


Novemeber 23 was the International Day to End Impunity, honoring those who have been killed for exercising their right to free speech.

In Egypt the thugs are out of control with several dozen people dead and hundreds wounded as the violence in Tahrir Square continues for all the world to see. Each outrage committed by the Egyptian military and police isdocumented on the Internet through social media.

In the United States the Occupy movement may not have a unified set of demands, but the protesters have found fresh unity and momentum against the thuggish manner in which police and other authorities have handled the protests. Abuses have been documented by citizen journalists as well as professionals who have in turn been getting arrested. After this pepper-spraying of demonstrators sitting on the pavement with locked arms at UC Davis in Northern California, netizens have created a website through which people are invited to upload mashups – like the image above – of the Davis policeman in question spraying various iconic targets. Meanwhile, the struggles for freedom and control of the Internet rage across the world.

The Wall Street Journal has obtained a trove of marketing materials for surveillance and hacking technologies from a secretive conference held recently in Washington DC. The journal claims to have received from conference attendees 200-plus marketing documents, spanning 36 companies, include hacking tools that enable governments to break into people’s computers and cellphones, and “massive intercept” gear that can gather all Internet communications in a country. They represent a multi-billion dollar global industry in technologies that are sold by Western companies to all sorts of governments around the world. Despite U.S. export controls, American technology, including Hewlett-Packard computers, has made its way to Syria among other countries where protestors and dissenters are being killed with impunity.

Engineers are reporting that China appears to be testing a new system for detecting and blocking encrypted internet connections, such as Virtual Private Networks (VPN’s), a common way of circumventing censorship.  This appears to be part of a broader effort by the government toassert sovereignty over the domestic Internet, rein in foreign influence and keep Chinese netizens from getting too rebellious.

In Turkeythousands of people protested this week against a new Internet filtering system that will block “inappropriate content” as well as “separatist propaganda.”

In PakistanBytes for All reports that the Pakistan Telecommunications Agency issued a new directive to all cellular operators in the country “to enforce an SMS content filtering mechanisms to ban the use of 1695 so called offensive English and Urdu words.” The directive has been widely mocked by Pakistani netizens and authorities denied its existence to a Voice of America reporter.

Earlier this month the Sri Lankan government issued an order requiring all websites containing news about Sri Lanka to register with the government. Some major news websites were blocked the day after the announcement.

South Africa is cracking down on whistleblowers.

This article is an edited extract of a piece originally written by Rebecca MacKinnon for Global Voices Advocacy