Global Voices Summit: Fund for Cyber Activism?

Paul Maasen is with Hivos, a Dutch non-governmental organization inspired by humanist values. Hivos has supported a number of important blog initiatives including GlobalVoices and Rooz online and Kloop.

Hivos’ Media, Information and Communication programme (MIC) aims to empower citizens in development countries  – especially the poor and the marginalized and the organisations that support them – to express their voices and make them heard. Hivos takes the view that access to information and knowledge can improve the position of the poor.

There is a recognition that more needs to be done for cyber activists/dissidents on the ground. Would a fund for cyber activism be useful? If so, what are the problems that cyber activists run into?

In Thailand, digital dissidents that were arrested but when a campaign was mounted to call attention to their imprisonment the impact was limited. This was because those incarcerated were somewhat shy about having their names disseminated. So the local cultural element of publicity is an important factor. On a different note, how much international interest is there in a blogger being arrested? Especially one people don’t know, can’t pronounce their name or even locate their country on a map.

One suggestion might be to have a  rotating rapid response fund so imprisoned bloggers can pay bail. Another might be to provide representation by human rights lawyers. In Morocco, getting a company to agree to host a website to promote a campaign is a huge issue, as is bandwidth and cost. One participant blogger revealed that his network is current developing a hosting service where censored bloggers can post host their blogs and engage in campaigns to free bloggers. The service should be available later this year. There is also a considerable amount of overlap between the journalism field and bloggers. The former have a number of services that cater towards supporting journalists. At the same time, one powerful idea is to figure out how to mobilize local networks in galvanizing campaigns to respond to imprisoned bloggers.

There is a need to learn more about individual, local success stories. If each blogger participant could write up a couple paragraphs, DigiActive could then collate the stories and make them available on DigiActive. I recently returned from setting up a community-based conflict early warning/response system in Timor-Leste where we have included a rapid response fund for local communities to engage in projects that have a direct impact on preventing escalating conflict. Community groups send in applications and short funds are meant to be quickly disbursed. This practice has worked well in another community-based early warning system in Kyrgyzstan. Both projects in Timor-Leste and Kyrgyzstan were funded by the International Forum on Election Systems.

Two bloggers, who have been imprisoned for their blog activity, added their two cents to the discussion. One mentioned that the regime in his country is virtually ignorant about the Internet is. The other blogger expanded on the issue of campaigns to free bloggers and how these can sometimes backfire.

Patrick Philippe Meier

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