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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Freedom of Expression: Covering All the Angles

Egyptian novelist and blogger Marwa Rakha has posted an English translation of fellow Egyptian blogger Hanan El Sherif's discussion of blog censorship and online community at Global Voices. It's a fascinating angle, from the blogger community, on the rights and responsibilities being discussed by policy-makers, editors, lawyers and journalists at PEN's conference this week.

The online community, particularly in Iran and throughout the Middle East and North Africa, is very reflective and supportive, with bloggers openly discussing government censorship and persecution of other bloggers, with an emphasis on "strength in numbers" speaking up and campaigning for the release of bloggers, for freedom of speech. Bloggers are quick to draw attention to the censorship or blocking of particular sites. It acts as a powerful argument for online *community* and that community's ability to set its own boundaries (distinguishing, for example, defamation from valid comment) and to defend its members.

Journalists have faced this kind of censorship and intimidation for years, and have developed a number of organisations such as Reporters Without Borders and International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) to collect information, such as the number of reporters killed on the job (up 244% between 2002-2007), to make headlines and provide a unified front.

Perhaps bloggers need a grassroots-generated focal point for drawing up online behaviour charters and for rallying to bloggers' defense -- something along the lines of OnlinePEN, or a union (something freelance writers in North America have been working towards for decades) or CARA, the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics, which has just announced its 2008 conference. Between 3rd and 5th December, attendees will learn about CARA's history, present and future, and about current issues affecting refugee academics finding work and publishing.

They are currently focusing on the plight of Iraqi academics, and are fundraising for two dedicated fellowship schemes via an emergency appeal for Iraqi academics, shadowed by a chilling list of Iraqi academics assassinated in the five years since the invasion.

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