FREE EXPRESSION

in Asian Cyberspace

Charges against James Gomez dropped; passport returned

CHARGES against James Gomez have been dropped, his passport returned, but not without a stern warning from the police, who had him arrested at the airport last May 7 and detained for questioning for three consecutive days (May 7, 9 and 10) for 16 hours.

Check out his blog for more updates.

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May 15, 2006 Posted by | Free Expression in Asia | 1 Comment

James Gomez harassed by Singapore authorities

JAMES Gomez, who was one of our panelists at the recently held “Free Expression in Asian Cyberspace” conference in Manila, has been asked to surrender his passport “voluntarily” and to help the Singaporean police with investigations over a complaint lodged against him by the Elections Department of Singapore.

Based on accounts posted on his blog, James was attempting to leave the country when he was stopped at the Changi Airport in Singapore and was subsequently escorted to the police station. He underwent three separate questioning sessions, lasting for 16 hours, in connection with the following charges: criminal intimidation, giving false information, and using threatening words and behavior. The police has not told him how long the investigations will last and when his passport will be returned.

James participated in the recent general elections under the Workers’ Party ticket. The party was able to garner 44 percent of the votes cast, a significant increase to make it the largest opposition party — though still with only one or two parliament seats out of 84. The ruling party retained a large majority with 67 percent of votes cast.

An online petition has been launched to express support for James. To sign the petition, click here.

You can also access information about his participation in the recent Singapore general elections and the petition on his blog. Jeff Ooi also has accounts of the airport incident and James’s arrest.

May 12, 2006 Posted by | Free Expression in Asia | 3 Comments

Blogspot domain being blocked again in Pakistan

THREE days after the lifting of the wholesale ban on the Blogspot domain in Pakistan, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) appears to have resumed its blocking of the entire popular free blog hosting domain. Problems with accessing the said domain were reported on May 6, verified by dozens of Internet activists across the country.

“It just seems that this cat-and-mouse game was probably played out just to appease the world during the annual World Press Freedom Day which was held on May 3,” said Dr. Awab Alvi of the Don’t Block the Blog campaign. “Ironically it was the same day that the entire ban was lifted and we were actually patting each other on the back for a job well done. Who knew that three days later we were again to land flat on our face?”

Alvi said the “brief period of freedom followed by the censorship” has only made them even more determined to create change. “We will fight them to the nail and I assure you with good support from you and other international agencies we can indeed dream of knocking some common sense into the bureaucracy.”

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May 8, 2006 Posted by | Free Expression in Asia | 3 Comments

RSF 2006 report: Asia still plagued by the old demons of authoritarianism

THE Reporters Without Borders released on World Press Freedom Day its latest worldwide survey of the state of press freedom in 104 countries. Below is the 2006 annual report on Asia:

King Gyanendra of Nepal demonstrated in 2005 the full force of hatred a head of state can harbour towards the press. The Himalayan monarch, who is drawn to absolutism, was responsible for more than half of all recorded censorship cases worldwide. The royal administration censored news in the country’s many publications and on independent radio stations a total of 567 times. Journalists who resisted him by streets demonstrations and in the courts forced him to back down to some extent. This unprecedented campaign even ended in a general strike after an independent radio had its broadcast equipment seized.

The picture in Nepal typifies the struggle throughout Asia with the old demons of totalitarianism. North Korea, a graveyard for freedom, is still in the grip of numbing propaganda from its leader Kim Jong-il. In Burma, the military tries to keep everything under control by imposing relentless advance censorship. While China, a burgeoning power, keeps its journalists in a state of servitude to bias. In Laos, journalists have been turned into bureaucrats with no chance of contradicting the line of the sole ruling party.

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May 4, 2006 Posted by | Free Expression in Asia | 6 Comments

Blogspot blanket ban in Pakistan appears to be lifted

DR. Awab Alvi just emailed to announce this recent piece of good news. He says the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) has recently removed the blanket ban on Blogspot yesterday, hence allowing majority of bloggers in Pakistan free access to their blog accounts hosted on Blogspot.

Below is the news release:

Yesterday, on 3rd May 2006, after almost two months since the initial ban was imposed, the Alvi-e Team, comprised of Dr. Awab Alvi and Omer Alvie, and supported by tens of bloggers worldwide joining under the “Don’t Block the Blog” banner are pleased to report that they again have access to Blogspot blogs in Pakistan. The PTA (Pakistan Telecommunication Authority) had, on the 3rd of March 2006, blocked access to a number of websites for the Internet users in Pakistan. This ban was in response to a list submitted by Supreme Court decision dated 2nd March 2006 instructing the PTA to ban 12 offending websites which highlighted the blasphemous cartoons on the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In adherence to the Supreme Court ruling, all 12 sites were blocked including one that was hosted on the Blogspot domain. But rather than block the offending Blogspot website, the PTA blocked the entire domain which happens to be one of the most popular blog hosting domains hosting approximately upwards of ten million blogs globally.

We believe that this development can be credited to the collective efforts of dozens of free speech activists of the Don’t Block the Blog Campaign and the Action Group Against Blogspot Ban in Pakistan. The peaceful activities were primarily responsible for creating a massive awareness campaign nationally (within Pakistan), as well as internationally.

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May 4, 2006 Posted by | Free Expression in Asia | 9 Comments

SEAPA statement on World Press Freedom Day 2006

3 May 2006

This year’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations focus on a free and independent media’s importance in ridding the world of poverty and all its ills. Where the press is restricted and where journalists are threatened, the accountability of governments are weakened, and social scourges feed upon each other in a vicious cycle.

This reminder from UNESCO carries ominous warnings for societies the world over, and is especially relevant for the people and leaders of Southeast Asia. Countries such as Burma, Vietnam, Brunei, and Laos, for starters, stand as glaring reminders of how repressive regimes and intolerant leaders can deprive entire their citizens not only of rights, but also of their full potentials for development and economic upliftment. It is no coincidence that poverty is acute where civil and human rights are denied—where journalists and writers are routinely arrested and imprisoned for their work—and people’s very access to independent information is always under threat.

Even Singapore, with its glistening skyscrapers, robust economy, and political leaders living in mansions, is challenged to fully confront the reality of senior citizens scavenging for meals and rent money, now that pensions and welfare are being proven insufficient.

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May 4, 2006 Posted by | Free Expression in Asia | Leave a comment