With Internet use booming worldwide, tens of thousands of new blogs written in Farsi, Arabic, Chinese and other languages are inspiring both civic activism and government crackdowns.
Worldwide, nearly half of all imprisoned media workers are online journalists or bloggers, according to a new study by the Committee to Protect Journalists that names Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Tunisia and Syria as leaders in online repression.
Cuba has also jailed and harassed a number of bloggers, reported the Miami Herald, including Pablo Pacheco, who has been behind bars since 2003.
And more repression there is expected, with dozens of bloggers becoming ever-more bold in their diverse critiques of the government. Restive Cubans have staged online protests against censorship, as well as risky in-person actions, marches and even a workshop series, the Bloggers Academy of Cuba, that educates would-be media makers in methods, technology and legal issues.
Al Jazeera reported that two video bloggers in Azerbaijan have recently been jailed for mocking the president there, while Agence France-Presse noted a U.S. House of Representatives resolution demanding that Vietnam free all of its political prisoners, including 18 bloggers.
In China, however, where censorship and repression is widespread, viral protests by millions of “netizens” are having surprising impact.
The Washington Post reported that online activism there has “prompted police to reopen closed cases, authorities to cancel unpopular development projects and … national leadership to fire corrupt local officials.”
Government repression — or the fear of it — has also not dissuaded bloggers in the Middle East, where the proverbial Arab Street is now on the Internet.
Statistics show Middle Eastern Internet use went up by more than 1,000 percent between 2000 and 2008 — from 3,284,800 users to nearly 48 million — while a Harvard University study estimates there are at least 35,000 blogs written in Arabic, and 70,000 serving Farsi-speaking residents of Iran and elsewhere.
Although Farsi spoken only by about 75 million people worldwide, the blog search-engine Technorati ranks it as one of the top ten blogging languages.
In Iran, Twitter helped drive protests over the disputed June elections there, serving as a type of global instant messenger.
But bloggers — seven of whom were jailed for their critique of the vote — provided the details and a place for discourse.
“Online social networks in Syria”
Global Voices, November 6, 2009
“For reporters without borders, press freedom is the price for democracy”
Global Voices Advocacy: November 7, 2009
“Bloggers jailed in Azerbaijan”
Al Jazeera, November 11, 2009
“Media Literacy 101”
Huffington Post: October 30, 2009
“Mapping the Arab blogosphere: politics, culture and dissent”
Berkman Center for Internet & Society, June 16, 2009
“U.S. House Demands Vietnam free bloggers”
Agence France-Presse, October 21, 2009
“China’s netizens holding officials to new standard”
Washington Post, November 9, 2009
“Arab winds of change”
The Guardian, October 22, 2009
“Cuba’s blogosphere has developed a sharper edge”
Miami Herald, November 10,2009
“Languages on the Web”
New Media Trend Watch, September 17, 2009