The Internet and other communication technologies have created unprecedented opportunities to share information, opening up paths for pro-democracy groups, activists, journalists and individuals around the world to organize, and hold their governments accountable.
But new technological tools are vulnerable to exploitation by governments aiming to crush dissent and deny human rights. All governments struggle to balance a need to deal with serious issues such as security, hate speech, and child safety for their citizens but in repressive societies, these concerns often serve as convenient pretext to engage in censorship or surveillance of the Internet that violates the rights and privacy of users and threatens the free flow of information.
Watch this video to see why Internet Freedom is important.
Human Rights First is working on several fronts to protect Internet freedom, including:
- The Global Network Initiative (GNI): we helped launch and continue to actively support this multistakeholder initiative to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.
- The “Netizen” project: maintaining free access to the Internet or communications tools is essential to the work of journalists, activists and bloggers around the world who use them to organize. Working with these netizens gives us a window into how to maintain that space.
- U.S. government advocacy: we promote policies with the U.S. administration and Congress that support these strategies. Read more about Congressional action in this area, and join our email list to see how you can help!
New technology demands new thinking about how companies, governments and civil society groups can each work to promote Internet freedom.
Human Rights First is part of the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a multistakeholder initiative designed to address efforts by governments to pressure information and telecommunications companies to comply with policies that violate users’ freedom of expression and privacy.
The GNI brings together companies from the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, human rights organizations, academics and investors to address laws and policies of governments that seek to enlist companies in acts of censorship and surveillance and to promote the rule of law and the adoption of laws, policies and practices that protect and respect freedom of expression and privacy.
This diverse coalition has developed new principles and guidelines rooted in fundamental human rights guarantees of freedom of expression and privacy. These commitments are supported by a strong accountability framework and ongoing learning and capacity building. Learn more about the GNI.
Meet our featured netizens: journalists, activists and bloggers from around the world who use the Internet and communications technologies to organize democratic movements, hold their governments accountable, or simply express themselves freely. Listen as they discuss the challenges they face with various forms of repression.
Maziar Bahari – Iran
|Maziar Bahari is an Iranian-Canadian playwright, film-maker and journalist. During the 2009 election protests, Bahari was arrested, held in solitary confinement, and beaten for crimes such as insulting the Supreme Leader and undermining the security of the state. Read more»|
Bahari, Newsweek magazine’s Iran correspondent, participated in the 2009 Iranian election protests and was arrested by Iranian authorities without charge and detained. He was coerced into giving a televised confession acknowledging Western journalists as spies. Bahari was held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison in Iran where he was interrogated daily. After 118 days in jail, Bahari was released on bail on October 20, 2009 facing 15 different charges. His arrest and detention were the subjects of a November 22, 2009 segment of 60 Minutes and an article in Newsweek, “118 Days, 12 Hours, 54 Minutes.”
On March 9, 2010 Bahari was sentenced in absentia to 13.5 years in prison plus 74 lashes for a number of crimes including insulting the Supreme Leader and undermining the security of the state.
Click here to listen to Maziar Bahari discuss obstacles to Internet freedom in Iran.
Gamal Eid – Egypt
|Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer in Egypt, has taken the lead on critical human rights cases and founded an organization that supports freedom of opinion, expression, and belief. He’s awaiting trial on charges including “misuse of a communication tool” for a post made on the Internet in 2007 accusing an Egyptian Judge of infringement of intellectual property rights for plagiarizing a report of his organization. Read more»|
Eid’s organization, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), provides original research, legal aid, and technical, networking, and strategic support for the defense of freedom of opinion, expression, and belief. ANHRI provides a central site for Arabic readers to find information on human rights groups and their work in the Middle East, trains human rights organizations on secure communications, the use of internet technology and the creation of websites and publishes reports and studies on Internet freedom and freedom of expression.
Eid and two other human rights activists in Egypt are awaiting trial on charges of defamation, blackmail and misuse of a communication tool for a post made on the Internet in 2007.
Eid has been lead defense lawyer in many of Egypt’s most important human rights cases, and writes and speaks regularly on international human rights and freedom of expression developments. For more background on his work:
He is also an experienced trainer on human rights research, monitoring, and legal aid, and issues relating to the use of the internet in defense of human rights.
Click here to listen to Gamal Eid describe repressive tactics used by the Egyptian government to suppress Internet freedom.
Oleg Kozlovsky – Russia
|Oleg Kozlovsky, a pro-democracy leader in Russia, has faced harassment, arrest, and imprisonment by Russian authorities for his involvement in peaceful protests. Read more»|
Kozlovsky is a founder and coordinator of the Russian youth democratic movement Oborona (“Defense”) whose aim is to defend democracy and civil rights by non-violent protest. He is also a member of the Bureau of Federal Board of Solidarnost (“Solidarity”) which includes nearly all liberal democratic opposition forces.
At age 25, Kozlovsky has faced harassment by the Russian government for his activities, has been arrested numerous times and served several short-term jail sentences for his role in preparing and participating in peaceful protest rallies. He has been banned entry into Belarus since 2006.
Kozlovsky’s articles in Russian and in English have been published by a variety of publications including The Washington Post, RobertAmsterdam.com, Huffington Post, and Ezhednevny Journal and in his own blog. Kozlovsky received the 2008 Human Rights Award from Human Rights First.
Click here to listen to Oleg Kozlovsky talk about how the Russian government limits basic rights to freedom of expression and privacy
Iryna Vidanava – Belarus
|Iryna Vidanava has been active in promoting civil society and independent media in Belarus for more than a decade. Founder and editor-in-chief of an award-winning magazine, she has been named one of the “World’s Top Dissidents” by Foreign Policy Magazine
in recognition of her efforts to fight for freedom of speech in Belarus.
Vidanava is the founder and editor-in-chief of 34 Multimedia Magazine, an independent youth publication aimed at promoting creativity, dissent and democratic values. The magazine is published on compact disc and is also available online at www.34mag.net.
As of July 1, 2010 new Internet regulations in Belarus will require compulsory registration of all websites and the collection of personal data from Internet cafe users. Vidanava has actively been writing about this issue and the implications of these new requirements.
Click here to listen to Iryna Vidanava talk about restrictions on Internet freedom in Belarus.