Internet and Freedom of Expression

November 2-4, 2011 took sflc.in to participate in a closed group discussion organized byPoint of View,Internet Democracy Project,Center for Policy Alternatives, andGlobal Partners & Associateson Internet and Freedom of Expression in Kathmandu, Nepal. Participants came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to interact in this beautiful country, which welcomes everyone with open arms. To my great chagrin, I discovered the harassment Indian officials mete out to foreigners (We are truly "Incredible") and vowed never to complain about visa hassles I face as an Indian. I think reciprocity in these issues assumes tit for tat but I wish we lived up the tourism logo of country and really follow 'Atithi Devo bhav".

We interacted and deliberated on issues in a true round table way (although the table was rectangular in its shape). No long, boring speeches but small snippets of the topics and issues followed by open, passionate discussions took two full working days and spilled over into a few hours on the third day, leaving no time for anything but Freedom of Expression. I even dreamt of Intermediary Liability on the third day apart from covering from jet lag.

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Anja, Bishakha, Nigel, Dixie and Sushma ensured that the show ran smoothly and was sprinkled with fun discussions and interactive, talkative dinners wherein we endeavoured to venture out beyond our obsession with the internet and its beauty. The meeting brought together passionate and strong headed professionals such as journalists, community activists, human rights defenders, businesses, film makers, newspaper editors, writers, Twitter superstars, and of course the loquacious sharks (lawyers). Frank La Rue, who is this super charming human rights activist and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expressionbrought amazing clarity to this discussion resting on the intersection of Law, Technology and Politics. His interventions were laconic and precise and were met with nodding heads at least most of the time.

In a nutshell, we covered the following points, not necessarily in the provided order:


  • Shared experiences on threats to freedom of expression in our various countries and the challenges which we face;

  • Recommendations made in Frank's report to the United Nations on May 16, 2011 and compliance and implementation of these recommendations;

  • Access to the internet, surveillance, security, privacy and data protection online, arbitrary filtering and blocking of content and criminalization of expression, and intermediary Liability issues amongst others;

  • Hate Speech online

  • Lady Gaga;

  • Community Radio;

  • Freedom Box;

  • Spectrum;

  • Etymology of terms like 'Hindu-Zionist";

  • White Spaces;
  • Nepali Pashmina Shawls etc.

The diversity of experiences is evident from the name of the countries and I won't elaborate on that but the passion about the issues is universal along with the sense of humor.

 

We did not realize that the week following the meeting would once again bring out these issues in the limelight. On November 5, 2011 the Director General of the Department of Government Information, Government of Sri Lanka issued a press release mandating all "websites carrying any content relating to Sri Lanka or the people of Sri Lanka... uploaded from Sri Lanka or elsewhere to "register" for "accreditation".

Our Nepalese friends quickly came into action and stood in solidarity with the Sri Lankans in condemning this action and issued thispress release.

The discussions have started an interesting dialogue amongst the stakeholders in all participant countries and one of the foremost developments has resulted in the following statement. Please endorse, share, analyze, comment or if nothing else just read the statement and hope that you still can anonymously comment on this blog without being under surveillance.