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CyberDissidents.org News and Analysis | November-December 2010

November 24, 2010

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CyberDissidents.org News and Analysis | November-December 2010


In This Edition:
A Word from the Director
Kareem Amer Freed, Speaks!
Bahraini Blogger on Trial
Moroccan Cyberdissident Stands Up for Democracy
Egyptian Blogger Exposes Police Brutality
Interview With Tunisian Dissident Cartoonist
CyberDissidents.org Hosts Nationwide Protests
Iranian Artist Opposes Government Repression
Video of Syrian Student Abuse Stirs Public
CyberDissident in Focus: Waleed Al Husseini
Featured Quote: Valery Chalidze
Featured Campus Ambassador

A Word from the Director: David Keyes

Two week ago, a Palestinian blogger was arrested in the West Bank for satirizing Islam. Current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have stressed borders, refugees, recognition, settlements, terror and land--but largely neglected the issue of individual freedom. The mission of CyberDissidents.org is to promote freedom of expression in authoritarian Middle Eastern countries--not to address war and peace. But having met last month privately with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, I feel compelled to offer a few brief thoughts on the conflict.

In the long run, treaties with those who deny their citizens fundamental freedoms are unsustainable. The great dissident Vaclav Havel said it best: "Without free, self-respecting, and autonomous citizens there can be no free and independent nations. Without internal peace, that is, peace among citizens and between the citizens and the state, there can be no guarantee of external peace." In other words, a nation that terrorizes its bloggers will likely not treat its neighbors much better.

Gaza is controlled by a theocratic, totalitarian government that routinely threatens genocide. Hamas ruthlessly persecutes women, minorities, gays, Christians, atheists and dissidents. The terrorist organization won an election but is acting as a tyrant. Talk of peace with such a group is nonsensical. Despite overseeing economic growth in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority also remains autocratic and repressive, as was demonstrated two weeks ago with the arrest of atheist blogger Waleed Al Husseini.

Peace in the Middle East will only be as strong as the freedom each individual feels to dissent, critique, argue and protest. No matter how hard we try, external peace cannot be fully realized without internal freedom.


Kareem Amer Freed, Speaks!
Kareem Amer, the Egyptian student blogger who has been imprisoned for the past four years, was freed on November 15th. FreeKareem.org is closely monitoring his situation and is a great resource for updates. On his blog, karam903.blogspot.com, Amer wrote about secularism and equality for women. He strongly denounced attacks against Christians in Alexandria that took place in 2005. These blog posts led to his first arrest that October. He spent twelve days in prison and was eventually released, after having his personal items confiscated. Amer was charged with "spreading malicious rumors," "defaming the president," "incitement to overthrow the regime," "incitement to hate Islam," and "highlighting inappropriate aspects that harm the reputation of Egypt." He was sentenced to four years in prison. From prison, he sent letters that condemned the ruling party and called for the release of activists in his country. On the night of November 15 - ten days after his actual release date - Amer was finally freed.

Amer spoke on November 24th for the first time since being released at a press conference. He said he will continue his writing and activities and that he still considers himself a secular person. He spoke about his experiences in prison where his only source of news was government run media. Private opposition newspapers were banned and Amer revealed that all of the letters of support sent to him over the years were confiscated by authorities.

Bahraini Blogger on Trial
On September 4th, Ali Abdulemam, the founder of Bahrainonline.org, was arrested by by Bahraini authorities on charges of "diffusing fabricated and malicious news on Bahrain's internal situation to spread rumours and subvert the Kingdom's security and stability." His trial began on Thursday, October 28th, and though Bahrain is often seen as a liberal Gulf state, this case proves that there are still red lines and heavy restrictions on freedom of speech. There has been a lot of support for Abdulemem in the West and we encourage readers to join an online campaign to free Ali on Facebook.

Moroccan Cyberdissident Stands Up for Democracy
19-year-old pro-democracy Moroccan blogger Kacem El Ghazzali contacted CyberDissidents.org moments after receiving death threats on Facebook. The first message that appeared in his inbox stated that El Ghazzali will be slaughtered "like a sheep." The second, titled "An Appointment," claimed that the sender will meet El Ghazzali in Elhajeb, a neighborhood close to the blogger's home. Several days later, El Ghazzali conducted an interview with CyberDissidents.org's Arabic Coordinator, Ahed Al Hendi, in which he explained the roots of his blogging. He is currently in hiding, and has started a petition with the goal of leaving Morocco for asylum in a Western country. Read the full interview here.

Egyptian Blogger Exposes Police Brutality
Egyptian blogger and former political prisoner, Mohammad Maree, has stirred up debate on his blog, egyptimes.org, after documenting yet another incident of police abusing a an Egyptian citizen. Marre has posted a picture and four videos of the victim, bus driver Yasseer Ibrahim Mohamad Arafat. Arafat was subjected to abuse and torture by Captain Mudhat Murtada, who works in the Nebrwa police station. To read more about the brutal encounter, click here.

Interview with Tunisian Dissident Cartoonist
A Tunisian blogger and cartoonist, who goes by the name "Z" in order to protect his identity and ensure the safety of his family still living in Tunisia, spoke to CyberDissidents.org about the conditions of democracy and freedom of expression in his country. Z shared his opinion on the dictatorship of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and alternatives to his government: "The regime, along with many leftist intellectuals, holds the belief that Islamist fundamentalism is the only political desire of a conservative society. This train of thought leads those with power to prefer the soft dictatorship of Ben Ali to a possible takeover of religious fanatics... I think that Ben Ali's regime encourages fundamentalism, and the fundamentalists' actions strengthen his authority. I do not want to get between these two sides, and I do not believe that the world is so Manichean. I merely encourage democratic debate, so we can discuss politics and other topics without regard to our differences and establish a system that is not monolithic, but open to criticism and alteration." Read the rest of the interview here.

CyberDissidents.org Hosts Nationwide Protests
Just prior to his release, CyberDissidents.org marked Kareem Amer's fourth year in prison by holding protests at Egyptian embassies, consulates and American universities. Journalist Abe Greenwald wrote:

"In today's Washington Post, Egyptian finance minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali boasts away: ‘Economic growth has helped make Egyptian civil society the most dynamic in the Middle East. Independent satellite broadcasts reach 70 percent of the population. There are more than 500 independent journalism publications and more than 160,000 bloggers. Indeed, there are more opposition dailies in Egypt than in any other Middle Eastern nation. There is also Internet freedom; Google searches are unfettered.' Funny timing. Today Egyptian student blogger Kareem Amer is supposed to be freed after four years in prison. There are rumors that he will not be let out, even though he has officially completed his sentence. What offense put Amer in prison for four years? Criticizing the Egyptian dictator and "insulting Islam." For all the talk of Egyptian reform, Egypt is still a country in which students can spend nearly half a decade in prison for writing the wrong blog post. Despite billions of dollars of annual U.S. aid to Egypt, the Mubarak regime flouts the very foundation of Western liberalism: freedom.

As is typical, Amer's case disappeared from the public eye shortly after his imprisonment. But some human rights advocates have refused to let this issue die. Today CyberDissidents.org is hosting nationwide protests at Egyptian embassies, consulates, and American universities to remind people about Amer's fate. When Mubarak visited the White House in August 2009, President Obama thanked him for being a "leader and a counselor and a friend to the United States." He praised Mubarak's willingness to "advance the interest of peace and prosperity around the world." It would be nice if we could ask Kareem Amer for his thoughts on those statements."

Iranian Artist Opposes Government Repression
26 year old Iranian artist Arya Aramnejad recently condemned the Islamic Republic's treatment of its citizens at a court hearing pertaining to charges of "acting against national security" issued against him. Following the Ashura uprising, which was highlighted by violent clashes between state forces and citizens protesting the controversial 2009 Iranian Presidential Election, Aramnejad posted a song to his blog, titled "Ali Barkhiz" ("Rise, Ali"). The Iranian government subsequently detained Aramnejad and reportedly subjected him to various forms of physical and psychological abuse. Aramnejad lists his grievances and discusses the despotic nature of the current Iranian regime in a defiant defense speech. Read more here.

Video of Syrian Student Abuse Stirs Public
A video showing two Syrian teachers abusing schoolchildren surfaced on YouTube and is has caused a scandal in the country. In the two and a half minute video, the teachers are shown striking children's bare hands and feet as punishment. Some children are forced to help the teachers assault their classmates by holding up their feet. The video has had tens of thousands of views and a Facebook group has been set up condemning the teachers' actions, and calling on the Syrian government to identify the teachers and bring them to justice. Read morehere.

CyberDissident in Focus: Waleed Al Husseini
Palestinian blogger Waleed Al-Husseini was arrested in the West Bank city of Qalqilya by security forces on October 31st. His "crime" was expressing atheistic beliefs online. Al-Husseini created several Facebook pages in which he wrote in the name of Allah, presented satirical poems in Quranic style and refuted religious arguments. According to local reports, Al-Husseini has been tortured and Palestinian authorities may refer him to a martial court. He could face execution or a thirty year prison sentence for expressing his alternative religious beliefs on his blog and Facebook account. Online groups and petitions have already been created in support of Al-Husseini and are demanding his immediate release.

Featured Quote
"I propose that the most important contribution that can be made to the defense of human rights in any country is publicity--making sure that violations of rights and appeals in defense of rights become known to a wide audience. I cannot prove the direct benefit from publicity in every case. But since those who violate human rights strive to prevent any disclosure of their crimes, it is reasonable to suppose that they have studied this matter and understand that publicity restrains their violations of human rights. And remember, suffering is even more intolerable when a victim knows that he is forgotten, that nobody in the world cares about his pain and destruction."

Valery Chalidze, co-founder of Human Rights Committee (first NGO in the Soviet Union) together with Andrei Sakharov

Featured Campus Ambassador
Anton Root is a junior at New York University and a campus ambassador for CyberDissidents.org. He is double-majoring in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and Journalism: Media Criticism. He was a Dean's Circle member in the Liberal Studies Program, and is currently a Presidential Scholar in the College of Arts and Sciences. Anton is interested in the effects of new media on journalism in America and the Middle East. At CyberDissidents.org, Anton conducts research on online censorship, writes articles about blogger repression in the Middle East, and spreads awareness of the issue to campuses throughout America. Read more about the Campus Ambassador Program here.

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