Wanted : Human Rights for Arab Bloggers
Last Thursday, December 10th, was the International Day for Human Rights. I must admit I am not overly impressed by that date, as I consider that every day should be the International Day for Human Rights. Talking with a colleague who was just back (and pretty discouraged) from a meeting related to the rights of People Living With HIV on that same day, it got me thinking of the perpetual movement of Human Rights, and the need for the International Community to get on with the programme, and start implementing changes.
Indeed, new categories of persons are emerging who might need special protection, or more basically, the respect of their existing rights: people living with HIV are an example, but also, bloggers, and because they’re more targeted than others, Arab bloggers.
Following Twitter’s timeline, you often see “Authorities raided such and such Blogger’s house”. Because bloggers are independent, influential, and daring, they have recently become the target of certain regimes that do not particularly appreciate to be criticized or questioned. Freedom of speech is a Human Right that has already been over discussed, but it is still important to recall it when we’re talking about blogger’s rights. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 states at its article 19:
“1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.”
Paragraph 3 of this article seems to be a Godsend for oppressive regimes, as they often use notions such as “public order” or “national security” to repress bloggers and their ideas. Nevertheless, what regimes seem to easily forget is that the restrictions that might be applied to freedom of speech have to be in compliance with the principles of legality and necessity, two core elements that somehow seem to be ignored the authorities chasing down bloggers. Besides, a whole procedure has to be followed, ensuring the legality of the restrictions applied to article 19, but I hear your pain in front of all the legalities and will therefore stop here with all the international law stuff.
The forms and reasons of coercion upon Arab bloggers are various and diverse. Bloggers do advocacy: they use blogs in order to share their opinions and analysis, but also to denounce what might be happening in their countries, and publish materials that mainstream media can’t or don’t want to make public. While on the one hand impacting on societies and changing things, bloggers on the other hand expose themselves and become vulnerable to retaliation from officials. Abuse towards bloggers range from the shutting down of their websites, to arbitrary arrests, harassment, threats for them and/or their families, and torture. For example, Karim Arabji, a 31 year old Syrian blogger, was sentenced to three years in prison on the grounds of “spreading false or exaggerated news that could harm the morale of the country”, Kareem Amer, an Egyptian blogger, has been jailed for four years in Egypt after being accused of criticizing Hosni Mubarak, after the publication of different blog posts, including articles lashing the Al-Azhar University, where he was a student. These two examples are just the incarnation of dreadful practices that happen all over the Middle East.
However, the solidarity amongst Arab bloggers ensures that nobody forgets the victims of governmental abuse, and many tweets, YouTube channels and supportive posts are frequently featured all over the internet, calling for popular action to speed up the release of the detained bloggers.
Besides, it seems that Arab bloggers are on the path of organising themselves. Indeed, the Arab Bloggers’ Meeting has been happening for two years in a row now, with the second held in Beirut last week, from the 8th to the 12th of December. During these meetings, bloggers participate in skills-building workshops, but also reflect on their situation as Arab bloggers and on the challenges they are facing.
Being a blogger in the Middle East is not an easy task. It does require a lot of courage: courage to touch on the subjects that no one wants to address, courage to try and shake mentalities and courage to stand up to oppressive regimes. To be credible, bloggers have to speak the truth, or rather, the truth as they see it, which gets them into trouble. But if they don’t, they lose all credibility. In a perfect world, governments would respect the treaties they signed and ratified, they would recognize international common law, they would stop using torture as their main negotiation tool. Sadly, as we do not live in such a world, we still have to fight for our rights, and once again, advocate and unite, establish our voice as a strong one in the global civil society. I want to see a consortium of bloggers granted the Observer status at the UN.
One blog might be a drop in the sea, but try 40000, and you’ll have an ocean. Keep on Blogging.