September 1, 2011 | By Jillian York

This Week in Internet Censorship: Egyptian Blogger on Hunger Strike While China and Trinidad Crack Down

China cracks down on Sina Weibo

While China's "Great Firewall" prevents citizens from accessing popular social media networks Twitter and Facebook, Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging platform not unlike Twitter, provides a vibrant alternative for China's ever-increasing community of netizens.

Though speech on the platform is controlled, an outpouring of anger from netizens toward the treatment of a June 23 train crash near Wenzhou by authorities, followed by the flooding of the network with protest photographs from the city of Dalian, has lead to a crackdown on users.

According to the New York Times, on August 26, Sina Weibo notified its users that several bloggers "deemed to have spread unfounded rumors" would be suspended from the service for one month. That news is compounded by a rumor (discussed on Al Jazeera's Stream on September 1) that China might consider enforcing real ID registration, a policy that South Korea says it plans to abandon following a major security breach.

As perhaps the world's most restrictive country when it comes to regulating the Internet, China's attempts to further control networks may prove to have the opposite effect, angering netizens whose newfound freedom on platforms like Sina Weibo have offered a greater sense of participation.

Egyptian blogger on hunger strike

Egyptian blogger Mikael Nabil Sanad has been on hunger strike since August 22. Arrested in March for a blog post in which he criticized the military, Sanad was sentenced to three years in prison by a military court. In July, he was told that it could take up to a year and a half to get a court date for appeal, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). On August 22, Sanad began a hunger strike, the details of which have been posted on a campaign site against military trials in Egypt. According to that same source, Sanad has been held in solitary confinement for more than a week.

Using the hashtag #NoMilTrials, Egyptians are tweeting for Sanad's release, as well as calling for an end to military trials of civilians. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has stated that, between January and June of this year, nearly 10,000 civilians have received military sentences. Still others have been summoned for criticizing the military, such as Asmaa Mahfouz, a blogger whose tweets about the military resulted in her being summoned.

As CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney notes, "this is a defamation case in which the army is not only judge and jury, but plaintiff too." And like CPJ, we call for the immediate release of Mikael Nabil Sanad.

Trinidad & Tobago considers regulating social media

Since August 21, parts of Trinidad & Tobago have been under a state of emergency, enacted in response to a recent crime wave. Citizens' rights to freedom of movement, assembly, association, speech, and privacy are affected by elements of the country's Emergency Powers Regulations.

News this week has circulated around a video in which a 14-year-old girl, responding to the declaration of a State of Emergency and accompanying curfew restrictions, threatened Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. According to Trinidad & Tobago's CTV, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan responded to the incident by suggesting that laws will be brought to parliament to regulate and monitor the use of social networks:

I have in fact asked the Acting Chief Parliamentary Counsel, Mr. Cuthbert Jolly, and the Chairman of the Law Reform Commission, Mr. Samraj Harripaul, to undertake an immediate assignment with a view to drafting laws to take to Parliament, to deal with the regulation and monitoring of the social networking sites to ensure (they) are not being abused and misused by persons who have hidden agendas and sinister and malicious motives to incite persons and to use it to form gangs of their own.

EFF will continue to monitor this story.


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