Sixteen months ago I founded the Committee to Protect Bloggers. The Committee acted as a clearing house for information on threatened bloggers and advocated for their lives, liberty and freedom of expression. In the time since, the Committee helped to raise the public profile of bloggers in repressive regimes through coordinated online action, press outreach, petition campaigns and so on. According to Intelliseek’s Blogpulse service, our online campaign “Free Mojtaba and Arash Day” was the fifth most linked-to blog post of the year.
Our efforts were followed not just by bloggers but by mainstream media as well. We were interviewed, sourced and written about by the Christian Science Monitor, Village Voice, PRI’s The World, BBC News Online, BBC Radio 5, Oakland Tribune, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sacramento Bee, National Law Review, Slate, American Bar Association Journal, American Journalism Review, the Associated Press, Overseas Press Club of America, Wall Street Journal, Libération, Foreign Policy, La Voz de Galicia, Washington Post and others. I was invited to write op-eds by the Los Angeles Times, Canada’s National Post and CNET’s News.com.
Our actions, including online actions, petition campaigns and press appeals, contributed to the pressure exerted on the Iranian government. This, in turn, led to the dropping of capital charges against reformist blogger Mojtaba Saminejad and to the release on bail of Arash Sigarchi. Similar pressure led to the outright release of Bahraini blogger Ali Abdulemam, the release of Egyptian ant-fundamentalist blogger Abdolkarim Nabil Seliman and various other significant actions. In addition to this sort of pressure we have also advocated on behalf of expatriate bloggers in immigration actions and paired another up with an attorney from a Nobel Prize-winning public interest law firm. Bloggers from Malaysia and Syria contacted us first when they discovered they were due to be interrogated by their respective security services.
Recently, after a lengthy application process, we were finally awarded the status of a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation by the United States Internal Revenue Service. Unfortunately, despite repeated appeals for funding and help, neither was forthcoming in the necessary volume to continue the activities of the Committee. People vote for what they value with their wallets first and their asses second and we lost both polls. It is a reality of life that I can no longer work for the Committee to Protect Bloggers as an unpaid full-time volunteer. So, though it pains me to do it, I have called an end to the Committee in its current incarnation.
Every day working for the Committee I learned more and more about a complex world, and there is an ever-increasing amount to learn and to report on as both the number and activity of bloggers increases and the attempts to silence them keep pace. There are more opportunities to take advantage of and more challenges to face. I have met a number of excellent people through CPB who have made my life more interesting. I have been lucky, for example, to receive advice and support from Ammar Abdulhamid of the Brookings Institution and the Tharwa Project and from Jesse Sage of the American Anti-Slavery Group. I have been grateful for the interest and occasional efforts of bloggers and other interested citizens from around the world.
I am, however, more worried than ever that free speech is less and less a priority for the overwhelming majority of the world’s citizens. And it is hardly evil governments alone who oppose free speech. In the western world the self-congratulatory adolescents of the political left vie with the frothing troglodytes of the right wing to see who can give more empty lip service to free speech while denying it to their enemies. In the developing world, religious extremists use blogs to amplify their bile against the culture that produced the very machines and programs they use to do so.
I am glad to see some organizations finally advocating for bloggers, as well as continuing to act against censorship and filtering. Most of the individuals involved in these organizations have more experience than I do and all of the organizations have greater resources. Let’s hope they stay alert to the tendency of all large organizations to drift toward self-justification, turf wars and political expediency and continue to pay attention to the rights of the people they exist to defend. Even when they don’t agree with them. Especially when they don’t.
The Committee to Protect Bloggers was an experiment, to see what bloggers could do on their own to help themselves. Not a lot, it turns out, and not for long. But a little, and for a while. It will be interesting to see what the future will bring.
Although the Committee to Protect Bloggers is done, the legal organization behind is not. That organization has already created several independent projects and has begun a new one.
First of all, check out Blogswana, an AIDS-focused citizen journalism undertaking in Botswana. It is an attempt to put into practice the other truth about blogging that I have come to, that bloggers, in order to avoid devolving into irrelevancy, are going to have to get off their asses and into the world.
Completed projects include Enough is Enough, the Zimbabwe democracy super-blog (now edited by The Zimbabwean Pundit); and the BlogSafer wiki with its anonymous blogging guides in English, Chinese, Persian and Arabic (funded by Spirit of America).