Five activists punished by their governments for speaking out

Activists are continually harassed and punished for standing up and speaking out about social and political issues they feel are unjust in their country. Here are five activists whose government didn’t quite like what they had to say.



Raif Badawi- Saudi blogger punished after calling for ‘day of liberalism’

It would seem absurd to most people that “liking” a Facebook page could land you in jail. However, that was one of the crimes charged against Raif Badawi after he “liked” an Arab Christian page on the social networking site. The young co-founder of the Liberal Saudi Network, a website that has since been shut down, was arrested in June 2012 for “insulting Islam through electronic channels”, including insulting Islam and portraying disobedience.

In January, a court had refused to hear apostasy charges against Badawi, concluding that there was no case. Apostasy carries the death sentence in Saudi Arabia. He has since been sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in jail.

Eskinder Nega- Ethiopian blogger

Eskinder Nega is a well-known name in Ethiopia whose journalism has been recognised by major organisations globally; he is currently serving 18 years in jail for supposedly violating the country’s anti-terrorism legislation.

Nega was arrested in September 2011 after publishing, somewhat ironically, an article criticising his government’s detainment of journalists as suspected terrorists, in particular the arrest of Ethiopian actor and government critic Debebe Eshetu . Along with 23 others, he was then convicted of having links with US-based opposition group Ginbot Seven, an organisation Ethiopia had recently added to its list of terrorists.

This is not the first time Nega has been imprisoned for speaking out in defense human rights. Meles Zenawi’s government  handed him a total of eight sentences over the past decade. He is also not the only journalist to face prosecution under the Ethiopian government. According to the Amnesty Annual Report 2013 a number of journalists and political opposition members were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on terrorism charges for calling for reform, criticizing the government, or for links with peaceful protest movements. Much of the evidence used against these individuals consisted of examples of them exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.

Shi Tao- Stung by Yahoo in China

2013 was a good year for Shi Tao; the Chinese reporter was finally released after documents leaked by Yahoo to his government saw him spend the past eight and a half years behind bars.

Tao sent details of a government memo about restrictions on news coverage of the Tiananmen Square massacre anniversary to a human rights forum in the United States. He was subsequently arrested in 2004 and sentenced the following year charged with disclosing state secrets.

Reporters Without Borders said the branch of Yahoo in Hong Kong assisted the Chinese government in linking Shi Tao’s email account to the message containing the information he had sent abroad. Yahoo was heavily criticised at the time by human rights activists and U.S. legislators with Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo, publicly apologising to Shi Tao’s family.

Tao was released 15 months before the end of us 10 year restriction. It is unclear why his early release occurred.

Ngo Hao- Vietnamese blogger

You’re never too old to go to prison as 65-year-old activist Ngo Hao found out after he was handed 15 year sentence earlier this year on charges of attempting to overthrow the Vietnamese government. Accused of writing and circulating false and defamatory information about his government and its leaders, Hao was arrested in February. Further accusations included a peaceful attempt to instil an Arab Spring-style revolution and of working with dissident group Bloc 8406.

Reporters Without Borders criticised Hao’s trial for a lack of his right to a fair defence and the unwillingness to allow any family members to attend the hearing asides from his son.

Just weeks before an appeal court in the south of the country also sentenced two bloggers, Nguyen Phuong Uyen and Dinh Nguyen Kha. This takes the estimated total of bloggers behind bars in Vietnam to 36.

Jabeur Mejri- Tunisian blogger seven and a half years for posting on Facebook

After the 2011 Arab Spring many Tunisian bloggers were able to express themselves freely; a stark contrast to the censorship, arrest and jail they had come to expect under the rule of former President Ben Ali. One such blogger was Jabeur Mejri who, in March 2012, posted a cartoon of the Prophet Mohamed on his Facebook page, a post that sentenced the blogger to over seven years in jail for “attacking sacred values through actions or words” and “undermining public morals”.

The rise of ‘opinion trials’ has become a concern to many with Mejri being the first person sent to jail under the procedure. Lina Ben Mhenni told Amnesty International: “You can go to jail for a word or an idea. ‘Opinion trials’ have become part of our daily lives. As in many other countries, Tunisia’s taboo topics are religion and politics. You can’t criticize the government in general or the Islamists in particular.”

Google is locked in a battle it can only lose by fighting

Today, Google changed their privacy policy. These are documents we are never likely to read, and are even less likely to make headline news. But they shape how huge corporations build knowledge about us; how they lock us into commercial relationships we may not like; and even pose political and legal threats to us once governments and courts get interested in the data these policies govern.

Google, which may not be an inherently bad company, nevertheless wields enormous power. Much of this power is not about “search” or even “services” like Gmail, but about data. That data is farmed from many users, who contribute to Google’s hunger for information in return for access to the free and useful services they provide. Google’s primary customers are people needing that data, especially advertisers. Many people would say that we, the users, are in fact the product that Google is selling.

Thus their privacy policy is the bargain by which we hand over our data in return for free stuff. It should matter. Just as importantly, the power we have over that bargain, what we can negotiate, is vital to us, because as we know, privacy policies can change.

This is where Google have come unstuck. Making their policy simpler to understand is completely reasonable, and even sharing data across their services is a potentially useful idea. But European regulators, starting with the pan-EU data protection grouping called the Article 29 Working Party, don’t like the idea that users are being forced to share data across Google’s services without any ability to stop it.

They are also concerned that the new ways data may be used are not being described upfront. So, if your location data from your Android phone starts helping Google search understand the places you might want to visit, you may not expect this, and be upset or worse if it happens.

The French regulator CNIL has launched an investigation in order to establish if Google have broken EU Data Protection law, and EU Commissioner Viviane Reding has already weighed in to say she believes they have.

This isn’t a good fight for Google. They are already in a battle over the future rights we have over our data with exactly these people. Reding is proposing new protections, like fining companies up to 2 per cent of their income for data breaches, giving us the right to escape from companies like Facebook by getting our data back, and the right to delete our personal data from such companies. All these ideas may become law in the new data protection regulation that Reding is pushing.

One of the most controversial concepts for Google is the “privacy by default” principle. Such a principle could make it very hard for Google to force everyone to share data in new and unexpected ways. The expectation would be that new data sharing, as envisaged by Google’s new privacy policy, would require our active consent, and without it users could expect their privacy to be untouched.

Google, Yahoo and many other companies will be arguing against this idea, saying it may damage innovation. They argue that “privacy by default” isn’t needed, that notifying users is enough.

Facebook too, have recently introduced Netflix and Spotify services that failed to ask users if they want to share their listening habits with everyone on Facebook. This might not be the worst privacy violation in the world — but it’s certainly pretty annoying to an awful lot of people.

All of these companies are trying to do legitimate business and need the trust of their users. They also need the trust of governments. Right now, they seem to be actively proving that we really need the protections they claim should be dropped. We should listen to their actions, not their words.

Jim Killock is Executive Director of the Open Rights Group

India asks Google, Facebook to screen user content

The Indian Government have asked internet companies and social media organisations to censor internet content before it goes online. India’s acting telecommunications minister Kapil Sibal met with top officials from the Indian units of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook on Monday to discuss implementing the removal of disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before being published online.

Three un-named executives of Internet companies were told in a previous meeting that Sibal expected them to set up a proactive pre-screening system using people, not technology.

Facebook, Yahoo!, AOL, Mumsnet and the ISPA to David Cameron: libel reform needed to protect free speech online

Facebook, Yahoo!, AOL (UK), Mumsnet and the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) have written an open letter to the Prime Minister David Cameron calling for urgent reform of our libel laws. Currently, forum providers and ISPs are being forced to act as judge and jury over the content of websites, blogs and online discussions. The effect is that libel threats are causing online content to be censored, even when the material is not actually defamatory. The internet companies are angered that the multiple publication rule which they are bound by, predates not only the invention of the internet, but that of the light bulb