Reporters Without Borders learned last night that UNESCO has withdrawn its patronage for today’s Online Free Expression Day. We were notified of the decision by the director of its Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace Division. Defending the move, UNESCO said it gave its patronage for the “principle of this day” but could not support the various demonstrations organised to mark it.
“We are not fooled,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Several governments on today’s updated list of 15 ‘Internet Enemies’ put direct pressure on the office of the UNESCO director general, and deputy director general Marcio Barbosa caved in. UNESCO’s reputation has not been enhanced by this episode. It has behaved with great cowardice at a time when the governments that got it to stage a U-turn continue to imprison dozens of Internet users.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Unfortunately, it seems we have gone back 20 years, to the time when authoritarian regimes called the shots at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. UNESCO’s grovelling shows the importance of Online Free Expression Day and the need to protest against governments that censor.”
Reporters Without Borders immediately informed the French foreign ministry of UNESCO’s decision as it was at the suggestion of the French National Commission to UNESCO that this UN body granted its patronage for this event. The commission is an offshoot of the foreign ministry. Reporters Without Borders is of the view that the French government cannot remain silent in the face of the rebuff it has received as a result of pressure from authoritarian governments.
Reporters Without Borders has issued an updated list of “Internet Enemies” as part of its actions to mark this day. There are 15 countries on the list - Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
Cyber-demos are being organised in online versions of nine especially repressive countries. Internet users can create an avatar, choose a message for their banner and take part in one of these virtual protests.
Finally, a new version of the Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents has been posted on the Reporters Without Borders website (www.rsf.org). It offers practical advice and techniques on how to start up a blog and circumvent censorship.
At least 62 cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned worldwide, while more than 2,600 websites, blogs or discussions forums were closed or made inaccessible in 2007.