Here’s an unsurprising story of curtailing free speech:
The Fijian military junta has targeted anti-regime web logs (blogs), and threatened to arrest the people behind them. On May 17, army commander Colonel Pita Driti announced that blogs “critical of the army and members of the government” would be shut down as they posed a “threat to national security”.
“There is still an active state of emergency and people must be aware that some freedoms need to be restrained, including freedom of expression,” Driti declared. “When we catch up with these bloggers, we will take them to our military quarters and explain to them how their remarks constitute a threat to the country.”
This is an ominous warning, particularly given the regime’s record. Since launching its coup last December, the military has detained dozens of prominent oppositionists, including former government members, activists in various non-government organisations, and others opposed to the trampling of democratic rights in Fiji. Many have been assaulted and one person has allegedly been beaten to death while in military custody.
So Fiji isn’t as idyllic as often made out to be. Small surprise that following a military coup late last year, voices of dissent aren’t tolerated in the country. In Defeating Repressive Regimes I was optimistic about the power of technology to support democracy even in totalitarian regimes, but that optimism was tempered by observations in The limits of online freedom and activism?
The question that’s larger than Fiji is to what extent repressive regimes will go to clamp down on free speech. While projects such as Witness can help document human rights violations, this hasn’t stopped Arab Governments and other countries worldwide, including some “democracies“, from using various means to quell the voices of dissent.
But to put things in perspective, the US Army recently banned blogging, and there are calls even in the US to “police the Internet” in order to prevent it being used by terrorists for their violent ends.
The difference here of course is that I don’t believe a blogger in the US is going to be “invited” to spend some time with the military on account of something written against Sen. Lieberman’s perspectives on web freedom. In Fiji it’s a different story – which is precisely why bloggers need to continue to voice their opposition against the despicable forces that try to silence them.
How to Blog Safely (About Work or Anything Else)
Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents
Introduction to blogs and blogging
Building peace through ICT – Ideas for practical ICT4Peace projects