A preparatory meeting for the World Summit on the Information Society began on 17 February in Geneva. Reporters Without Borders is there with a delegation of cyber-dissidents and bloggers in order to put a face to the repression against Internet users in some of the countries that will be parading at this conference, and in order to present five recommendations for online free expression.
The Reporters Without Borders delegation attending the preparatory meeting:
– Zouhair Yahyaoui (Tunisia, the country hosting the second stage of the WSIS) was imprisoned from 4 June 2002 to 18 November 2003 for making fun of President Ben Ali on his website, Tunezine.com. He received the Reporters Without Borders Cyber-Freedom Prize in June 2003.
– Ibrahim Lutfy (Maldives) was arrested in January 2002 for helping to produce Sandhaanu, an electronic newsletter about President Gayoom’s human rights violations. He escaped from prison in May 2003 and has since lived in Switzerland, where he has been granted political asylum.
– Cai Chongguo (China), a philosophy professor and political dissident, had to flee his country after the Tiananmen Square massacres. He has been given asylum in France, where he is studying the system of online censorship that has been introduced in China.
– Jay Bakht (Iran) is a founding member of Penlog, a group of Iranian bloggers. He lives in Britain, where he fights for the release of imprisoned bloggers and campaigns against the Iranian government’s Internet filtering policies.
Read the four cyber-dissidents’ accounts of their experiences on the site dedicated to this initiative: www.radionongrata.org
Reporters Without Borders’ five recommendations for online free expression
1. Any law about the flow of information online must be anchored in freedom of expression as defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
2. Internet users alone must decide what material they can and wish to access online. Automatic filtering of online content, by governments or private firms, is unacceptable.
Filters must only be installed by Internet users themselves and only on their personal connection. Any policy of higher-level (national or even local) filtering conflicts with the principle of the free flow of information.
3. A decision to shut down a website, even an illegal one, must not in any circumstances be taken by the site’s host or any other technical provider of Internet services. Only a judge can ban an online publication.
A technical service provider cannot therefore be held criminally or civilly responsible for any illegal material posted on a hosted website unless the service provider refuses to obey a ruling by an impartial and independent court.
4. A government’s civil or criminal powers are limited to content hosted on its territory or specifically aimed at the country’s Internet users.
5. The editors of online publications, including bloggers and those running personal sites, must have the same protection and be shown the same consideration as professional journalists since, like them, they exercise a basic freedom, that of freedom of expression.