March 1, 2012 | By Jillian York

This Week in Censorship: Syrian, Moroccan Bloggers Under Fire; New Censorship in Uzbekistan

Syrian Citizen Journalists Face Increasingly Grave Threats

We recently reported on the Syrian government raid on the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, during which two bloggers and more than a dozen activists were arrested. The six women arrested have now been conditionally freed and are required to report to state security offices daily. However, nine men including blogger Hussein Ghrer and Mazen Darwish, the director of the Center, remain imprisoned.

Blogger and activist Razan Ghazzawi, who was among those arrested, bravely published a call to free her colleagues on her blog demanding authorities release her "beautiful boss, friends and colleages" at the Center. She also republished the Center's official statement, which demands that Syrian authorities release all detainees "immediately and unconditionally." The Center holds the Syrian authorities fully responsible for the psychological and physical conditions of the detainees.

EFF supports the call from the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and reiterates its demand that the detaineesall prisoners of consciencebe released immediately and unconditionally.

Moroccan Blogger Walid Bahomane's Peculiar Conviction

As we've recently pointed out, Morocco appears to be once again cracking down on free expression, despite constitutional reforms that demoted the status of the King from sacred to merely "inviolable."

Today, Reporters Without Borders wrote that Walid Bahomane was convicted on February on the piracy charge and sentenced to a year in prison and a fine of MAD 10,000 (~USD 1,200). The young blogger faced charges under Morocco's lèse majesté laws, as well as charges of "online piracy".

Despite the peculiar charges levied on Bahomane, it does not appear that the kingdom is shying away from lèse majesté convictions. Just one day after Bahomane was sentenced, 24-year-old Abdelsamad Haydour was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison by a Taza court for criticizing the king of Morocco in a video posted to YouTube.

EFF once again condemns the use of lèse majesté laws to silence speech and reminds the Moroccan government that its own constitution guarantees freedom of expression. 

Why is Uzbekistan blocking Uzbek-language Wikipedia?

Earlier this month, news emerged that Uzbekistan was blocking access to the Uzbek-language iteration of Wikipedia. The news doesn't come as much of a surprise in light of Uzbekistan employing a number of techniques to exert control over the Internet, it is still bewildering to some that the government would block Uzbek Wikipedia, but not its Russian counterpart.

In a piece for the Atlantic, Sarah Kendzior tries to make sense of the strategy, noting that the Russian version of the site contains far more information on the human rights abuses of the Uzbek government. She points to a prior article in which she reveals the way in which the Uzbek government views Uzbek-language online content as within its virtual "territory," and argues that "Uzbekistan's ban on Wikipedia has less to do with blocking access to information than it does with territorializing an ambiguous Uzbek ethnolinguistic virtual space." 

Nonetheless, the Uzbek government does block a slew of international sites, including a number of English-language sites that include information on human rights issues in the country. Though the block on Uzbek-language Wikipedia may constitute a power play, it may also be a harbinger of worse censorship yet to come.


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