Blogging to be free

Curt Hopkins
19 Aug 05

I’ve never been much of an activist. I lack that certain species of self-regard necessary to join the army of collar-tearing St. Sebastians who populate the peace industry.

But one morning I read an article about the detention and torture of Iranian bloggers. Within half an hour I had conceived and started the Committee to Protect Bloggers, or CPB. Here was a cause that required no hairsplitting. Simply put, no one, for any reason, should be tossed into prison and tortured for what he or she says. I was not alone.

Within a month, thousands of bloggers from around the world, of different creeds, religions and political orientations, had expressed their support. And when, a month after that, on Feb. 22, we staged “Free Mojtaba and Arash Day,” tens of thousands of bloggers around the world joined our attempt to focus attention on these two detained Iranian bloggers.

Mojtaba Saminejad remains detained in Tehran for criticizing the yearlong crackdown on reformists in that country. Arash Sigarchi’s fate was worse. Midway through that day of ours, it was announced that Arash had been sentenced to a prison term of 14 years by a closed, so-called revolutionary court for transgressions similar to Mojtaba’s. It was a heartbreaker, but bloggers across the world persevered.

Iran has imprisoned more than 20 bloggers in the last six to eight months. But it is hardly the only villain. Bahrain, a relatively liberal country for a hereditary Persian Gulf monarchy, imprisoned three
moderators of BahrainOnline, a bulletin board service, including the chief, a blogger named Ali Abdulemam. Ali and his two co-moderators were also subsequently released on their own recognizance after a similar effort by Bahraini bloggers and the CPB. China has a huge number of cyberdissidents behind bars. Security police in Singapore and Syria have hauled bloggers in for interrogation.

Power makes strange requirements on those who would possess it. And governments based solely on the acquisition and maintenance of power are ironically the regimes most discomfited by the finger-wagging of the world at large. We heard repeatedly from the people in the affected countries that the benefit of the attention bloggers bring to a human rights issue is the ability to mobilize overnight. The sudden ramp-up of an issue can put repressive regimes on the defensive and cause them to lose face. And bloggers, unlike most other groups of people, can make something an issue in an instant, all across the world.

In addition to bringing the word to other bloggers and to the wired in general, the blogosphere has become one of the primary cues of standard media. If something gets big in the blogosphere, it later will
be covered in the newspapers and TV. The electronic tricks of the human rights trade provide amplification. Software like Adam Globus-Hoenich’s ActivePetition software allows our supporters to swamp an unlimited number of recipients with personalized messages.

Newspapers, even individual Web sites, are relatively easy to shut down. But what can’t be shut down is a self-perpetuating system like the blogosphere. What our experience has shown is not that a single
organization, the Committee to Protect Bloggers, is a threat to tyrants, but that blogging itself is. Blogging’s culture of sharing, quoting and linking has created a radical redundancy for powerful ideas.

Blogging is so decentralized that the complete suppression of dissent is becoming increasingly impractical. Will that lead to a messianic age of
liberty and justice for all? I think that’s unlikely. But there are 14 million other bloggers out there, and they’ve all got their opinions.

Curt Hopkins is director of the Committee to Protect Bloggers.

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