Dissidents Urge UN to Fight Cyber-Censorship

Manifesto Slams Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam

GENEVA, March 12, 2010 – Marking the first World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, UN Watch and a global coalition of dissidents, non-governmental organizations and human rights activists submitted a new declaration on internet freedom to the United Nations, urging its endorsement by the world body.

The Geneva Declaration on Internet Freedom (click here for text), drafted by a committee of dissidents headed by two well-known political prisoners-Yang Jianli of China and Ahmad Batebi of Iran-calls for the protection of human rights activists imprisoned for social or political expression posted on blogs and other websites.

The manifesto was sent today to the President of the UN’s 47-nation Human Rights Council, Ambassador Alex Van Meeuwen of Belgium, after its adoption this week at the 2nd Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy, an assembly of 500 dissidents and activists. The council is meeting this month for its main annual session. The text was also sent to Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Both the UN rights chief and the council’s member states were urged to endorse the declaration, which affirms that “the preservation of a free Internet is essential to the full enjoyment of human rights, civil liberties and a free and democratic society,” and that “everyone has the right to equal access to the Internet, regardless of race, religion, ethnic or geographical origin.”

The Human Rights Council session is currently debating freedom of expression and other basic freedoms guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Next week it addresses specific countries that require its attention. NGOs can address the plenary, but a member state would need to formally table the declaration for it to be considered for adoption.

“Any attempt, to restrict or intimidate people from free, uncensored, and secure access of the Internet,” says the Geneva Declaration, “constitutes a fundamental abridgement of human rights and undermines the promotion of peace and world order.”

The declaration urges United Nations and international bodies, and “all like-minded supporters of freedom, human rights and democracy,” to adopt similar declarations, resolutions, or other statements “to support the cause of Internet freedom in the face of repression.”

The statement’s preamble declares that “the situation of Internet freedom in many regions of the world is increasingly perilous and under assault.”

It names several authoritarian states that regularly censor the internet and intimidate users through “cyber police,” including Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Authorities in China, says the declaration, have “seized computers, imprisoned individuals for sharing information online, blocked and deleted blogs and other online services, and incarcerated journalists and social activists for online activity.”

Iran is criticized for “suppressing the free flow of information,” “blockading Internet traffic,” and creating “a special police division to hunt down Internet users suspected of so-called ‘insults and spreading of lies’ against the regime.”

The declaration cites Cuba for imposing “near-total restrictions on access through prohibitive user fees, few public access points and slow connection speeds, and restricted distribution of service to a state-controlled provider.”

Activists, dissidents and former political prisoners attending this week’s Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy, included Yang Jianli of China, Duy Hoang of Vietnam, Caspian Makan of Iran (fiancé of Neda, slain Iranian protest icon), Rebiya Kadeer of China’s Uighur minority, Bo Kyi of Burma, Phuntsok Nyidron of Tibet, Dr. Massouda Jalal of Afghanistan, Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo of Cuba, Tamara Suju and Diego Sharifker of Venzuela, Donghyuk Shin of North Korea, Dewa Mavhinga of Zimbabwe, and Simon Deng Amer Adam Hesabu from Sudan.

Human rights organizations sponsoring the Geneva Summit included UN Watch, the Tibet Women Association, the International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY), Directorio, Darfur Peace and Development Center, LICRA, Zimbabwe Advocacy Office, LiNK, Human Rights Activists in Iran, CADAL, Genocide Watch, the World Uyghur Congress, Ingénieurs du monde, Initiatives for China, (Burmese) Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, Freedom House, the Jalal Foundation, OL! Youth Movement, and the Venezuelan Student Organization.

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The Geneva Summit for Human Rights

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