Blogosphere Remains Political Battleground

Earlier this year, stories about state censorship of blogging and Web-based political activism seemed to be everywhere. Egypt was a particular focus of news about political blogging, as the Islamist and secular opposition to Hosni Mubarak made the blogosphere central to their campaigns. The Arab blogosphere in general was the subject of a steady stream of news and commentary until this spring. Then there are the stories about China and Iran censoring bloggers and the Internet, which go back a couple of years.

But this summer seemed strangely bereft of news about state Internet censorship. That is until today, when we came across two articles related to blogging and international politics in our Media Roundup.

The first is a piece from Time magazine concerning the war taking place between the government and democratic activists in Vietnam’s blogosphere. Anti-government activists used the clever tactic of launching a fake blog purportedly written by the prime minister:

Vietnamese officials revealed Thursday that the site is actually the work of a clever impostor. “The prime minister doesn’t blog. He has too much other work to do,” Dung’s spokesman Nguyen Kinh Quoc told TIME. Separate blogs purportedly run by Manh, the Party leader, and President Nguyen Minh Triet, the official head of state, are also fakes. The government only became aware of the faux blogs this week, and vowed to track down the impersonators.

. . . in the past year, Vietnamese dissidents opposed to one-party rule have been communicating through Skype and recruiting via text message and voice-over-internet chat rooms. And exiled Vietnamese advocacy groups have been sending bulk email messages to accounts with Vietnamese-sounding names. These emails typically decry government corruption and urge ordinary citizens to rise up and demand multi-party elections.

For more, see the Opennet Initiative’s Vietnam profile.

A commentary piece in the Guardian today, meanwhile, examined how access to the popular Word Press blogging software in Turkey has been blocked by a Turkish court. The company was apparently caught up in a political battle between two Islamic groups in Turkey:

The ban should be seen as the first sign of the kind of censorship that an Islamist Turkish government is willing to accept. A Turkish court has shut down blogs because a local court favours one Muslim leader over another. What does tomorrow hold? The Islamist political leadership, which came to power by attacking secularist Turks for their anti-free speech views (Erdogan of the ruling party complained about not having free-speech rights when he recited an Islamic poem) is now enabling silencing of speech itself.

What does this say about the promises that Islamist parties make before actually acquiring power? How does this bode for Islamist democrats in other parts of the Muslim world? What does it reveal about the Islamist promise in general? It will be important, and instructive, to watch what happens with this case going forward. I would hope that the Islamists will recognise the principles of openness and freedom of speech that brought them to power, and get rid of this ban. We have seen too many Muslim dictatorships and monarchies engage in shutting down and arresting bloggers. Muslim democrats promised not to go down that route. Will they uphold that promise?