Over the past several months is seems we have been hit with several horror stories coming out of the Middle East related to blogging. As more of the region has gained access to the internet, this has led to an influx of new people using this capability to express their opinions online in the form of a blog. Unfortunately, this has also led to more publicity for these people, and introduces them to people who disagree with their opinion. This has resulted in violent acts against these bloggers, sometimes even death. With the major news outlets picking up these stories, it can come across as the Middle East being very dangerous for bloggers. So we are here to try and answer the question, just how hazardous is it?
To get an idea of the type of dangers we are talking about, we should go over two of the most publicized incidents that occurred in the Middle East. The first is the story of Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years last May. The crime he is being punished for is running a liberal blog that was critical of the government. It was designed to encourage debate and discuss the issues facing Saudi Arabia at the time. He was originally tried for apostasy, which would have carried a death penalty along with it, but that charge was dropped. Since then he has received the first 50 of his 1000 lashes, but large protests and international outcry has forced the Saudi government to postpone the remainder of the punishment for now. Raif’s only crime was voicing his opinion, and encouraging others to do the same, and for that he is being ruthlessly punished.
The other notable example is that of Avijit Roy, an American blogger of Bangladeshi origin who was mercilessly hacked to death after receiving threats from Islamists. Roy maintained a blog that championed liberal secular writing in the Muslim nation. As he was riding on a rickshaw with his wife, he was dragged down to the street and hacked at with a machete. He was taken to the hospital, but died before he arrived. This brutal killing sparked outrage within the country, with many condemning the attacks. Still, it is a reminder of what can happen when you express an unpopular opinion in this region.
So are these cases the norm in this area, or the exception? This is rather harder to say. For example, Roy was the fourth writer to be attacked since 2004, and the second to die in the past two years. While this may sound like the cases are few and far between, the fact that they are happening at all is what is concerning. When it comes to blogging in the Middle East, it really depends on what you are blogging about, and where you live. Some areas are more lenient, both from the government and from the citizens. For example, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, leader of Khaimah, has recently released a large amount of prisoners to allow them to attempt to get their lives back. It is this sort of stance towards punishment and rehabilitation that we need more of, rather than death penalties and whippings.
In the past, blogging has been a very effective tool for spreading information within and from the Middle East. Unfortunately, many in the region are now resorting to violence when they disagree with an opinion. Blogging in the Middle East may not be inherently dangerous, but if you make yourself known and express an opinion that many will disagree with, you will need to be careful.