|[Published: Friday May 13 2011]
London, 13 May. - (ANA)- The year 2010 may well be remembered as a watershed year when activists and journalists used new technology to speak truth to power and, in so doing, pushed for greater respect for human rights. It is also the year when repressive governments faced the real possibility that their days were numbered, according to Amnesty international 2011 report published in London on Friday.
Information is a source of power, and for those challenging the abuse of power by states and other institutions, it is an exciting time. Since Amnesty International’s inception half a century ago, we have seen and shaped similar major shifts in the power struggle between those perpetrating abuses and the courageous and inventive individuals who expose their wrongdoing. As a movement dedicated to focusing global outrage in defence of beleaguered individuals, we are committed to supporting activists who imagine a world in which information is truly free and in which they can exercise their right to express dissent peacefully, beyond the control of the authorities.
For 50 years, Amnesty International has explored frontier technologies that can give voice to the powerless and abused. From teleprinters, photocopiers and fax machines through to radio, television, satellite communications, phones, emails and the internet, we have harnessed them all in support of mass mobilization. They have been tools that have. aided the struggle for human rights, despite sophisticated government efforts to restrict the flow of information and censor communication.
This year Wikileaks, a website dedicated to posting documents received from a wide variety of sources, began publishing the first of hundreds of thousands of documents which were allegedly downloaded by a 22-year-old US Army intelligence analyst, Bradley
Manning, who is currently in pre-trial detention and faces the possibility of more than 50 years in prison if convicted of espionage and other charges.
Wikileaks created an easily accessible dumping ground for whistleblowers around the world and showed the power of this platform by disseminating and publishing classified and confidential government documents. Early on, Amnesty International recognized Wikileaks’ contribution to human rights activism when Wikileaks posted information related to violations in Kenya in 2009.
But it took old-fashioned newspaper reporters and political analysts to trawl through the raw data, analyze it, and identify evidence of crimes and violations contained in those documents. Leveraging this information, political activists used other new communications tools now easily available on mobile phones and on social networking sites to bring people to the streets to demand accountability.
A compelling and tragic example of the power of individual action when amplified through the new tools of the virtual world is the story of Mohamed Bouazizi. In December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor living in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, set himself on fire outside the City Hall to protest police harassment, humiliation, economic hardship and the sense of powerlessness felt by young people like himself in Tunisia.
As word of his act of despair and defiance spread around Tunisia via mobile phones and the internet, it galvanized the long-simmering dissent against the country’s oppressive government with unforeseen ramifications. Mohamed Bouazizi died from his burns, but his anger lived on in the form of street protests throughout the country. Activists in Tunisia – a group comprised of trade unionists, members of the political opposition, and youth – some of whom did their organizing via social networking sites – took to the streets to demonstrate their support for Mohamed Bouazizi’s grievances. Experienced hands joined with young protesters in using new tools to challenge a repressive government.
The Tunisian government sought to enforce a tight media blackout and shut down individual access to the internet but news quickly spread thanks to new technologies.
The protesters made it clear that their anger was about both the government’s brutal repression of those who dared to challenge its authoritarianism as well as the lack of economic opportunity caused in part by government corruption.
In January, less than a month after Mohamed Bouazizi’s desperate act, the government of President Zine El ‘Abidine Ben ‘Ali collapsed and he fled the country, seeking refuge in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The people of Tunisia celebrated the end of 20 plus years of unaccountable rule, setting the stage for the restoration of a participatory and rights-respecting government to be elected. The fall of Ben ‘Ali’s government reverberated throughout the region and the world.
Governments which rely on torture and repression to suppress dissent and which grow rich through corruption and economic exploitation were looking over their shoulders. The local elite and foreign governments which propped up these illegitimate regimes while pontificating on democracy and human rights, were also nervous.
In no time the upheaval in Tunisia triggered tremors in other countries. People took to the streets in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Libya and Yemen.
The tools in 2010 were new but the grievances were the same: the quest for a life lived with dignity, with the full range of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.
Activists around the world who have too long endured the threat and reality of imprisonment, torture and other brutality because of their political opinion and beliefs or identity, imagined a world of possibilities including freedom from fear and meaningful political participation. What was clearly shown by the postings is that the lack of economic opportunity experienced by many in the region resonated deeply with those who were supporting the activists in Tunisia.
The frustration of people living under repressive governments is never far beneath the surface. For example, in Egypt, Khaled Said died following an assault by two police officers in an internet cafe in Alexandria in June 2010. His death provoked a public outcry – what in hindsight appears to be an early harbinger of the massive demonstrations in 2011. The police officers were charged with unlawfully arresting and torturing him, but not charged with direct responsibility for his death. In Iran, government officials restricted access to outside sources of information such as the internet as the discontent following the disputed election in 2009 continued and the wounds created by a brutal crackdown on protesters festered.
In China, the government attempted to bury the story of a young man who, when stopped by police after killing one woman and injuring another while driving drunk, dismissed them by proclaiming his relationship to a senior police official. The cry, “My father is Li Gang” became shorthand for lack of accountability and the story behind the line was posted and reposted on the internet throughout China even as the authorities struggled for control.
For those politicians who argue the primacy of civil and political rights over economic, social and cultural rights – or vice versa – the clarity with which activists have defined their frustration as related to the lack of political and economic opportunities demonstrates that this is a false dichotomy that ignores the experiences of millions, if not billions, of people throughout the world living without both.
Amnesty International, which began as an organization dedicated to the rights of prisoners of conscience, has long understood that it is just as important to point out the underlying violations that spur activists to write and to take to the streets as it is to ensure an end to detention and abuse of the activists. Social networking sites may be new, but they are important because they are a powerful tool that can facilitate camaraderie and support between disaffected critics living under similarly abusive governments around the world, concludes Amnesty international’s 2011 report. (ANA)
AB/ANA/ 13 May 2011---