The number of individuals in prison around the world for raising their voices online is on the rise. In 2017, the Committee to Protect Journalists found that more than seventy percent of imprisoned journalists were arrested for activities conducted on the Internet; as of 2021, at least 17 journalists were in jail on cybercrime charges. In a 2018 report, Reporters Without Borders cited 141 incidents of imprisoned citizen journalists, including bloggers and technologists, and nine citizen journalists killed. Now that individuals can speak up without the need for institutions or gatekeepers, states choose the most direct way to take away their power: incarcerating them, and taking them offline.
It's not just those who speak out who are sent to jail. Increasingly, EFF has seen coders, designers, makers, and hackers detained or threatened with prison for their work protecting or enhancing free expression and privacy. Writers, speakers, and journalists have long been understood by those in power as dangerous elements; now “technologist” has joined the list of occupations that corrupt politicians and dictators fear.
EFF supports the principles of free expression laid out in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and believes that those principles must extend online. The right “to seek, receive and impart information” includes a right to devise and share tools that enable and protect those abilities. “Offline” showcases key cases that may not be receiving wide coverage, but we believe speak to a wider audience concerned with online freedom.
Our international case advocacy is centered around awareness-raising. Over the years, we have often heard from those who have been released from detention that shining a spotlight on their case led to better treatment in prison or a speedier release. It is from this premise that we work, additionally ensuring that we have full support of an individual’s loved ones before we proceed with action.
We often collaborate with other organizations, including the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) and Global Voices Advocacy, to assist individuals and their families in finding legal, financial, and other support. With them, we work to assist the communities that form around these cases, help them navigate the UN human rights mechanisms, initiate creative campaigns for detained individuals, and shed light on this global phenomenon.