Nawaat: Reporters Without Borders Awards the 2011 Netizen Prize to Tunisian Bloggers

[Media News]

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reporters Without Borders

On the eve of the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, Reporters Without Borders Friday will award its 2011 Netizen Prize to the founders of a Tunisian blogging group named Nawaat.

The Netizen Prize goes to a Netizen - a blogger, online journalist or cyber-dissident - who has helped to promote freedom of expression on the Internet. The winner receives 2,500 euros in prize money. Google sponsors the annual award.

Nawaat won against finalists from Bahrain, Belarus, Thailand, China and Vietnam. An independent jury of press specialists determined the winner.

Dominique Gerbaud, Reporters Without Borders President, Jean-François Julliard, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general and Google President for Southern and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa and Carlo d’Asaro Biondo will speak at the award ceremony in Paris. Doctors Without Borders founder and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will give the prize to Nawaat’s co-founder Riadh Guerfali (Astrubal) at a ceremony in Paris at the Salon des Miroirs.

“Events in the Middle East, highlighted by the Tunisian Net Citizen winners, make this year’s commemoration particularly noteworthy and newsworthy,” said Mr. Gerbaud. “Some 1.6 billion people are online today, and any one of them can publish their ideas that can be discovered and consumed by anyone else. As we see in the Middle East, more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual. “
Jean-François Julliard warned, however, that this freedom remains fragile and under attack. Around 119 Netizens are currently detained for expressing their views freely online, mainly in China, Iran and Vietnam. World Day Against Cyber-Censorship pays tribute to those imprisoned for expressing their views online and their fight for Internet freedom. Reporters Without Borders is publishing an Enemies of the Internet list which outlines this growing repression bloggers and social networkers.

“Repressive governments around the world are creating and enforcing codes and practices that restrict free expression both online and offline,” said Mr. Julliard. “The number and variety of challenges are increasing, and repressive regimes and their opponents are becoming more and more sophisticated.”

Google’s President for Southern and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa Biondo saluted the Tunisan winners.

“We are sponsoring this event and this prize because it defends our company’s core values to make the world’s information universally accessible and useful,” Mr. d’Asaro Biondo said. “Our company is built on the free exchange of information.”

Doctors Without Borders founder and former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will be a special guest. “Dictatorships define themselves through censorship, press bans and arrests of journalists,” said Mr Kouchner.

Created in 2004, Nawaat.org is an independent collective blog operated by Tunisian bloggers as a platform for all “committed citizens.” It played a crucial role in covering the social and political unrest in Tunisia that began on December 17. Astrubal and Sami Ben Gharbia, two well-known bloggers who post regularly on the site.

The site recently created a special page for the WikiLeaks revelations about Tunisia, and another one about the recent events in Sidi Bouzid, which were not covered in the traditional media. It also warns Internet users about the dangers of being identified online and offers advice about circumventing censorship.

“We are deeply honoured by this prize. It will help to strengthen the citizen journalism that we have been practicing for years at Nawaat, despite all the risks involved”, said Riadh Guerfali. “This award is not only a tribute to Nawaat but to all our fellow journalists who often risk their lives to keep working in countries where freedom of expression is suppressed.”

Reporters without Borders, with Google’s support, launched the Netizen prize in 2010. Iranian women’s rights activists of the Change for Equality (www.we-change.org) website were the first recipient.

NETIZEN 2011 FINALISTS

> Nawaat (Tunisia) Created in 2004, Nawaat.org is an independent collective blog operated by Tunisian bloggers as a platform for all “committed citizens.” It has played a crucial role in covering the social and political unrest in Tunisia that began on 17 December. Its activity is representative of the key function fulfilled by bloggers and social network users in the fight for the right to news and information. The site recently created a special page for the WikiLeaks revelations about Tunisia, and another one about the récent events in Sidi Bouzid, which were not covered in the traditional media. It also warns Internet users about the dangers of being identified online and offers advice about circumventing censorship It was founded by Astrubal and Sami Ben Gharbia, two well-known bloggers who post regularly on the site.

> Ali Abduleman (Bahreïn) A very active blogger regarded by fellow Bahraini netizens as one of the Gulf’s Internet pioneers, Ali Abdulemam was arrested on 4 September 2010 on a charge of defaming the government. He was also accused of trying to destabilize the country by posting “false information about its internal affairs” on Bahrain Online, a pro-democracy forum that gets more than 100,000 visitors a day despite being blocked within Bahrain. Many calls for his release were issued by a solidarity campaign, via a Facebook group and in petitions. In a concession to the opposition and to demonstrators on 22 February, the government suddenly freed him and 22 other opposition and human rights activists who were being tried with him. Abdulemam said he was mistreated and tortured while detained.
> Jiew, Prachatai (Thailand) Chiranuch Premchaiporn, widely known as Jiew, is the webmaster and editor of Prachatai (http://prachatai.com/), a Thai alternative news website.
She has repeatedly been arrested and is currently facing the possibility of up to 70 years in prison on various charges under the criminal code and the Computer Crimes Act including defaming the royal family. Prachatai had to change its web address several times because of blocking measures while providing objective coverage of the unrest in Thailand in April and May of 2010. Jiew is the target of judicial harassment for her role at the head of one of the few websites to keep resisting censorship during the unrest. Her case is an example of the arbitrary use made of Thailand’s lèse-majesté legislation and Computer Crimes Act. Her trial has been postponed until September 2011.

> Tan Zuoren (China) A contributor to the 64Tianwang human rights blog, Tan Zuoren is serving a five-year sentence on a charge of inciting subversion of state authority. He is one of the Chinese netizens who has been jailed for trying to defend the public interest, like Huang Qi, the website’s editor, who is serving a three-year sentence. After the May 2008 earthquake in the southwestern province of Sichuan, he urged fellow netizens to come to the province to help document the plight of the families of the victims. In particular, he blamed shoddy construction (“tofu”) for the fact that many schools collapsed in the earthquake unlike well-constructed government buildings. He was arrested in March 2009 and was sentenced on 9 February 2010.

> Pham Minh Hoang (Vietnam/France) A blogger with dual French and Vietnamese citizenship, Pham Minh Hoang was arrested on 13 August 2010 in Ho Chi Minh City, where he was teaching at the Institute of Technology. He was formally charged on 20 September with “activities aimed at overthrowing the government” (article 79 of the criminal code) and membership of a “terrorist organization” (the banned Viet Tan party). The police mentioned 30 articles that he had posted on his blog (www.pkquoc.multiply.com) under the pseudonym of Phan Kien Quoc. They also accused him of organizing 40 students into a group for training as future Viet Tan members.
His wife, Le Thi Kieu Oanh, insists that the sole reason for his arrest was his opposition to bauxite mining by a Chinese company in the central highlands, a highly sensitive subject in Vietnam.

> Natalia Radzina, Charter97 (Bélarus) Journalist Natalia Radzina is the editor of Charter 97, a news website that covers cases of arrests, physical attacks and harassment involving traditional and online journalists and human rights activists. It has been the target of many cyberattacks and prosecutions in recent years. She was arrested on 20 December, one day after the récent presidential election, at a time when the government was trying to shut down all means of communication, and has been detained ever since. She is facing up to 15 years in prison on a charge of organizing and participating in a public order disturbance under article 293 of the criminal code. She was freed on January 2011, but she is nonetheless still facing a possible 15-year jail sentence of a charge of “participating in riots.” The website’s founder, Oleg Bebenin, was found hanged in puzzling circumstances last September. His death is still being investigated.

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