Monday, June 2, 2014

Postcard from Stockholm Internet Forum

This session was the most heated and had the most punchy questions from the audience. 

I participated at this year’s Stockholm Internet Forum (27-28 May) and I was one of the panelists at a session held entitled, “Towards a Cyber Panopticon?” Here are a couple of video clips from my talk:

Generally, this year’s theme was mainly about Online Privacy Issues, given last year’s Edward Snowden revelations. Nevertheless, Edward Snowden and hacker Jacob Appelbaum have been blacklisted from the Forum, most likely to preserve Sweden’s “diplomatic” relations. The move has made the majority of attendees outraged. 

Additional issues that were discussed throughout the forum’s sessions were issues related to freedom of information legislations, the right to information, online privacy. Such terms discussed in a “Democratic” country like Sweden makes me feel amused, so I tweeted:

For more detailed information, read this insightful report on ‘Surveillance Inc: How Western Tech Firms Are Helping Arab Dictators.’

As a Yemeni netizen, the surveillance issues worry me very much but it worries me more that we in Yemen face another immense challenges; we are still struggling to have the right to have a 24/7 electricity, the right to have an affordable access to internet connection, the right to have a fast internet connection and most importantly we struggle with a multi-faceted online censorship from the state level and the social level.

It was estimated that by 2011 that 14.9% of Yemen’s population were internet users and they would have to deal with the Yemeni government’s pervasive Internet filtering. The Yemeni government censors pornography, nudity, gay and lesbian content, sites displaying provocative attire, Web sites which present critical reviews on Islam and/or attempt to convert Muslims to other religions, or content related to alcohol, gambling, and drugs. Yemen's two ISPs, YemenNet and TeleYemen are in charge of all the blocking actions.

The good thing about states’ censorship is that it’s visible and clear unlike the social censorship which is invisible and not clear but acute. It comes from families and friends, and also comes as a self-censorship form. One of the forum’s participants was a leading dissident Egyptian blogger who has been blogging for a decade now but never disclosed his real name, wanting to hide that from his family. Just when you expect that only females in the middle east would do that, this time it was a young man. A man.

I also had the pleasure to meet Sudanese citizen journalist and activist, Usamah Mohammed Ali. We chatted about the conditions of the blogging sphere in our countries. He told me how he was once arrested during one of the protests in Khartoum in 2012 and the torture he experienced at the prison. Very troubling. Usamah was released after some Human Rights organizations and activists on Twitter were campaigning for his release using #FreeUsamah hashtag. I asked him if such online campaigns have a well payoff eventually. His answer was simple, “Yes. The louder noise we make, anywhere, the more irritated authoritarian regimes feel.”

Usamah’s smile is still vivid in my head. In the face of injustice, resilience is an undefeatable weapon.