Arab and Chinese activists campaign to release 'cyber dissidents'

Alexandra Sandels
7 Min Read

CAIRO: Arab and Chinese youth activists will be joining forces in a new Internet campaign calling for the release of imprisoned Chinese bloggers and demanding greater freedom of expression in China.

The campaign “New Youth 4 received its name after the case of the four young Chinese activists Jin Haike, Xu Wei, Yang Zili and Zhang Honghai, who in 2003 were charged with “subverting state power and the overthrowing of the socialist system and sentenced to prison for setting up the Internet discussion group the “New Youth Society; a forum allegedly advocating social and democratic reform.

The Beijing Intermediate People’s Court sentenced the men to long prison terms in spring 2003 ranging between eight to ten years; a verdict that has been subject to strong criticism from international rights groups, including Amnesty International and Committee to Protect Journalists.

The campaign, accessible at, is inspired and hosted by the Free Kareem Coalition – an online project launched by Arab activists in support of the imprisoned Egyptian student blogger Kareem Amer who earlier this year was sentenced to four years in prison for defaming Islam and President Mubarak on his weblog.

It was from watching the success of that we began to think that we could make a difference here in China. I contacted some friends who knew the people behind and they seemed to understand at once how important our project in China was, the New Youth 4 Coordinator who asked to remain anonymous told The Daily Star Egypt in an email interview.

Esra a Ahmed, director of the Free Kareem Coalition told The Daily Star Egypt that the right to free speech is an “incredibly important cause to fight for, leading her team to help set up the New Youth 4 only days after receiving the request.

Furthermore, Ahmed emphasized the importance of networking between activist communities in different parts of the world.

Networking is extremely powerful. Today these Chinese activists need our help, tomorrow we might need theirs. We help each other and that will strengthen our campaigns and hopefully help us achieve our goals, she said.

Both Egypt and China have come under strong criticism from rights groups for alleged web censorship and crackdowns on the countries so-called “cyber dissidents.

So far in Egypt this year, Alexandrian blogger Kareem Amer has been sentenced to four years in prison for defaming Islam and President Mubarak on his Internet blog while the Brotherhood’s blogger/journalist Abdel Moneim Mahmoud was arrested in Mid-April on what appeared to be rather unclear charges. Rights groups, activists, and the Brotherhood stress that Mahmoud’s detainment was a consequence of his online writings, where he posed criticism towards the Egyptian government.

Most recently, blogger Omar Sharkawy was arrested and detained on June 11 for three days while covering alleged fraud at Egypt’s recent Shoura elections.

In late 2006, Egypt was crowned one of the worlds 13 worst Internet Enemies by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) or Reporters without borders with the argument that the Egyptian authorities “display an extremely disturbing authoritarianism as regards the Internet.

In regards to China, RSF refers to the giant in the East in a 2007 report as the “world’s most advanced country in Internet filtering.

The authorities carefully monitor technological progress to ensure that no new window of free expression opens up, after initially targeting websites and chat forums, they nowadays concentrate on blogs and video exchange sites. China now has nearly 17 million bloggers. Although it is an enormous number, very few of them dare to tackle sensitive issues, still less criticize government policy. Firstly, because China’s blog tools include filters that block ‘subversive’ word strings. Secondly, because the companies operating these services, both Chinese and foreign, are pressured by the authorities to control content, RSF stated.

According to RSF figures, 52 persons are currently imprisoned for “expressing themselves too freely online.

New Youth s Coordinator added to The Daily Star Egypt that “speaking your mind in China can be a dangerous game.

Furthermore, New Youth 4 emphasized that while Egypt and China differ greatly from one another in terms of geography, culture, and language, the process of silencing dissent and open discussion is “eerily similar.

In the cases of Egypt and China, it appears that we have weakgovernments that do not understand that a nation can become strongerthrough open dialogue, they told The Daily Star Egypt.

When asked whether pressure from rights groups and activists can influence the decisions of national governments, Ahmed answers “most definitely, highlighting the numerous rallies and campaigns organized in several world capitals by the Free Kareem Coalition.

Thanks to worldwide rallies our team organized, many leaders, and politicians from all over the world quickly gained interest and expressed their concerns regarding Egypt s human rights abuses, Ahmed claimed.

New Youth s 4 Coordinator also emphasized the importance of public pressure, stressing that “public suasion is an incredibly powerful tool.

We are not trying to shame the Chinese government (in this campaign). We seek to convince them to look at the case of the four bloggers. So much as hearing from other citizens of the world is very, very helpful in our endeavors, said the coordinator.

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