15 July 2008

Death to Bloggers?

We were naturally disturbed the other day to see a report from Tehran headlined: “IRAN MULLS DEATH PENALTY FOR INTERNET CRIMES”

According to this report, Iran’s Parliament will consider a draft bill that adds to the list of those crimes meriting the death penalty “establishing weblogs and sites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy.”

The Internet is widely used in Iran and blogging is very popular --- especially for those interested in criticizing the country’s governing system.

“This proposal is horrifying,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Iranian Internet users and bloggers already have to cope with very aggressive filtering policies. The passage of such a law, based on ill-defined concepts and giving judges a lot of room for interpretation, would have disastrous consequences for online freedom. We urge the parliament’s members to oppose this bill and instead to starting working on a moratorium on the death penalty.”

According to the press freedom organization, a blogger, Mojtaba Saminejad, was tried before a Tehran court in 2005 on a charge of “insulting the prophets,” which carries the death penalty. In the end, the court acquitted him.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, other bloggers elsewhere have also run afoul of authorities. A Malaysian blogger, Raja Petra Kamaruddin, is being held in connection with a story alleging that a top official and his wife were involved in a murder.

A blogger is also being held in Burma, according to CPJ. The blogger is Maung Thura, better known as Zarganar.

The CPJ has also voiced concern about the detention of blogger Gopalan Nair on charges of insulting a Singaporean judge during a high-profile libel case.

Global Voices Advocacy, a project of Global Voices Online, is trying to build a global anti-censorship network of bloggers and online activists throughout the developing world.

One key piece of advice: “Advocacy often involves taking unpopular or controversial positions and criticizing powerful people, particularly members of the government. If you think that the material on your advocacy blog could get you into trouble, please consider blogging anonymously.”

The group makes available Ethan Zuckerman’s guide, “Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress & Tor.”

The guide says: “If you follow these directions exactly, you’ll sharply reduce the chances that your identity will be linked to your online writing through technical means - i.e., through a government or law enforcement agency obtaining records from an Internet Service Provider.”

Some key pointers for anonymous blogging:

Do not use any personal information on the blog, such as your name, employer, school, or home town.

Use a pseudonym or do not use any name at all.

Never post a photo of yourself on your blog.

Do not use a paid blogging or e-mail service. Your payment information can be used to track your identity.

Use different computers to post to your blog so that your blog cannot be connected to a single IP address (the unique series of numbers connected to each computer on the Internet). Identifying the computer from which the posts were uploaded is only one step away from identifying you.

Use a “proxy server” to browse the internet (this hides your IP address).

To achieve maximum security, ask a friend in a freer country to run the advocacy blog for you, sending them the information they need through an anonymous e-mail account

A couple of downloads for aspiring bloggers:

Title: “Anonymous Blogging With Wordpress and Tor”
Published by: Global Voices Advocacy (2007)
Download: http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/tools/guide/

Title: “Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents”
Published by: Reporters Without Borders (2005)
Download: http://www.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/handbook_bloggers_cyberdissidents-GB.pdf

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