Internet expression and jail time in Vietnam, Tunisia, Syria

A man in Vietnam was recently released from prison. His case is interesting because he was charged under security laws after he posted on the Internet thoughts about democracy. Amnesty International has the latest news:

Nguyen Vu Binh was arrested in September 2002, charged under national security legislation and convicted for ‘spying’, article 80 of the Penal Code, for having written and posted articles about democracy on the Internet and being in email contact with political groups in exile.

In addition to the seven years’ imprisonment, Nguyen Vu Binh was also sentenced to a three-year probation period following his release from prison. It remains unclear whether he is currently under such probation or whether he is a free man. Amnesty International is calling for no such restrictions to be imposed on him.

Apparently he was released after numerous protests including hunger-strikes and requesting clemency directly from the country’s leader. Amnesty International is still calling for freedom of dissent under the Vietnam government:

A report by Amnesty International in October 2006 revealed a climate of fear in Vietnam, with people afraid to post information online and Internet café owners forced to inform on their customers. It described individuals being harassed, detained and imprisoned for expressing their peaceful political views online, with fear of prosecution fuelling widespread self-censorship.

[…]

The rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association are guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The covenant is binding on Viet Nam, which is a state party since 1982. Yet peaceful government critics have been charged with criminal offences in the penal code’s Chapter XI, which relates to national security.

In similar cases, a Tunisian man was released after serving time in jail, while a group of Syrian students were allegedly tortured and locked away.

Freedom of expression on the Internet is complex not only due to the laws of the country a person lives in but also due to the laws of the countries overseas that have Internet access, or due to the laws of extra-national groups (e.g. religion). The BBC reports today that a Swedish cartoonist has been forced into hiding by threats from Muslim fundamentalists.

A little closer to home, Project Censored, gives a list of “Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008

#1 No Habeas Corpus for “Any Person”
#2 Bush Moves Toward Martial Law
#3 AFRICOM: US Military Control of Africa’s Resources
#4 Frenzy of Increasingly Destructive Trade Agreements
#5 Human Traffic Builds US Embassy in Iraq
#6 Operation FALCON Raids
#7 Behind Blackwater Inc.

For a unique perspective on this issue, I wonder how many will see parallels to the news about parents’ managing their children, including Internet access?

“I’m not saying all the books out there are bad, we’ve just got to restore parents’ confidence in their own ability rather than tell them what to do.”

She argues her approach is about getting people to really think about the kind of parent they are and the kind of parent they want to be, but mostly it’s about getting them to understand their child.

[…]

“I don’t know what a perfect parent is or what a perfect child is but I suspect both would be extremely dull,” she says. “Life is about challenge and emotion, it’s about the reality of living.”

The last part deserves a post of its own, but on the whole these issues show the amazing future challenges for information security systems to both protect sources from harm as well as filter out harmful ideas while still allowing challenging (or challenged?) ideas to flow in a public forum.

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