Wednesday, January 27, 2010

US Senators Fight Censorship Worldwide

Following the attacks on Google attributed to the Chinese government earlier this month, five United States senators are publicly urging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her State Department to support organizations that help people living under regimes such as China’s and Iran’s – which “often deny their populations access to Web news outlets and sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter,” according to The New York Times - circumvent restrictions on Internet use.

In a letter written by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and signed by Arlen Specter (D-PA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), and Bob Casey Jr.(D-PA), Mrs. Clinton is asked to quickly spend $45 million that has been earmarked over the last two years to support Internet freedom but has not been spent.

In December, the State Department asked for financing proposals from organizations with technologies that “maximize free expression and the free flow of information and increase access to the Internet.”

But the senators’ letter argues that the guidelines for which organizations may submit a proposal are too restrictive. One criterion for funding is established presence in a country with a demonstrably repressive regime, an issue for many of the most popular web programs, which operate from U.S.-based servers.

Some critics are also asking whether the State Department has avoided spending the earmarked monies to support Internet freedom organizations with ties to Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is suppressed in China, for fear of antagonizing the Chinese government.

“Officials at the State Department have sacrificed the interests of the demonstrators on the streets of Tehran, the interests of Google, and the principle of Internet freedom in closed societies on the altar of not making China go ballistic,” Mike Horowitz, an adviser to the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, a group affiliated with Falun Gong that makes popular restriction–thwarting tools like Freegate, told the Times.

Mrs. Clinton has not yet publicly responded to the senators’ letter or to these critiques.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sri Lankan Journalist J.S. Tissainayagam to be Released on Bail

Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam has been granted bail, allowing him to leave the labor prison he has been sentenced to as soon as Tuesday.

Tissainayagam, recipient of the first Peter Mackler Award, was arrested in 2008 and sentenced to 20 years of hard labor for "causing communal disharmony." He is among the first journalists in Sri Lanka to be tried under the country's terrorism laws.

Tissainayagam is a respected journalist and Tamil minority who has been accused of inciting disharmony and racial hatred through his writings, and also of raising money for the Tamil Tigers. He edited the Columbo-based North Eastern Monthly, and wrote for Columbo's Sunday Times, and in his articles accused the government of human rights violations against the ethnic Tamils during war.

The European Union, President Obama, and many human rights groups including Reporters Without Borders, The Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, and The Peter Mackler Award have condemned the Sri Lankan government's decision to jail Tissainayagam, calling it a violation of free speech.

Tissainayagam was arrested along with North Eastern Monthly's publisher S. Jaseeharan, who was acquitted in October.

The Times UK notes that the reversal comes weeks before Sri Lanka's election, where the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa needs minority votes to secure a win over General Sarath Fonseka.

Photo Credit: AFP

J.S. Tissainayagam Granted Bail

Sri Lankan editor and journalist J. S. Tissainayagam, who was awarded the first Peter Mackler Award in October, 2009, was granted bail today. "Tissa" will be allowed to leave the hard labor camp where he has been kept since being conviceted on terrorism charges in August, 2009.

Read the full story by the BBC here.