Cuban crave internet connection

Unleashed: http://www.censorship.com

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Fidel Castro controlled Cuba for nearly half a century. His rule was
defined by defiance and dictatorship, brutal repression against
dissidents and the management of an immoral American embargo. Free
speech has always been the Achilles’ heel of the regime.

During
my visit to the island last year – researching a book on the
internet in non-democratic countries – I saw a population that
craved access to the outside world.

Web and mobile phone
penetration is the lowest in Latin America. I met computer students who
studied the internet, but couldn’t access an unfiltered system.
Cyber-rebels are increasingly challenging this information apartheid.
I talked with hip-hop kids who loved gangsta rap they saw on satellite
television. They cared little for revolutionary thought. Being able to
buy consumer goods such as ipods was far more important.

It was a similar pattern across the globe, as I travelled from Egypt to Iran, Syria to Saudi Arabia and finally China.

The
internet was playing a leading role in citizens talking to government
and often challenging its archaic rules. Some simply wanted to meet
boys and girls online. Others loved downloading pirated films and
music. Only a handful craved political engagement.

A growing number of repressive regimes are experiencing the “Dictator’s Dilemma”
defined in 1993 by Christopher Kedzie as “having to choose between open
communications (encouraging economic development) and closed
communications (controlling ‘dangerous’ ideas)”.

China maintains the world’s most effective internet censorship, dubbed “The Great Firewall” or “The Golden Shield Project”.

Tens
of thousands of people are employed to monitor web traffic. Western
companies such as Cisco, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have willingly
assisted officials in their goals and sensitive subjects such Taiwan,
Tibet and democracy are routinely excised.

Over
210 million Chinese netizens – with 200,000 more going online for
the first time every day – are leading a massive shift in the
country’s relationship with central power, both allowing the regime a
unique way to gauge public opinion and an opportunity for others to
challenge corruption and pollution.

Although China is preparing for the likely onslaught of international pressure during the August Olympics over its human rights violations, the Communist nation is only the most infamous example of internet censorship.

Iran,
especially under the leadership of hardliner President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, has led a purging of journalists, dissidents, prominent
women and unionists.

Although the country’s online culture is
arguably one of the most robust in the Middle East – and I met
many bloggers there who bravely challenged the mullah’s grip on power
– Western companies are contributing to the country’s
isolation.

Yahoo and Microsoft quietly removed Iran from the country lists of their webmail services last year, claiming US sanctions forced their hand.
My investigations suggest that these moves were probably a pre-emptive
buckle, fearful of Bush administration sanction. Google’s Gmail service
still features Iran on its country list.

Internet censorship is becoming a key human rights issue around the world, highlighted by leading NGOs and the European Union.

In a new book titled Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Policy,
writers Ronald Deibart and Rafal Rohozinski remain optimistic that
despite the best efforts of many dictatorial regimes, “it seems
apparent that no one agent will be able to dominate cyberspace
entirely, but many will be able to push technologies, regulations, and
norms that affect it.”

I spent time in Saudi Arabia with leading
blogger and activist Fouad al-Farhan. He is a Muslim moderate who
campaigns for the establishment of democratic institutions in the
US-backed dictatorship. He was arrested in late 2007 and remains imprisoned for unspecified “crimes” but sources suggest it is because he campaigned for the release of jailed activists.

Farhan’s writings provide an invaluable insight into one of the most repressive nations on earth.

Cinemas
and music concerts are banned. Women are not allowed to drive or work
in most industries. He told me about the ways in which some of his
friends and families wanted to embrace gradual change while others
desired going to Iraq and fighting the American “invaders”.

Without bloggers in Saudi Arabia, we would have little idea of the nation’s true state.

The
internet will not automatically democratise all societies or bring
Western-style reform. Many bloggers and activists I met across the
world hoped for the exact opposite.

Its uncontrolled
unpredictability has proven to the mainstream media that local voices
will usually trump their own superficial understandings.

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