Thursday, March 15, 2012

[G] Syrian citizen journalists capture Netizen Prize

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Google Public Policy Blog: Syrian citizen journalists capture Netizen Prize

Posted by William Echikson, Head of Free Expression, Europe, Middle East and Africa

Cross-posted from the European Public Policy Blog

Earlier this week, Reporters Without Borders awarded the Netizen Prize to Syrian citizen journalists at a ceremony in Paris. The Netizen Prize is awarded annually to a blogger, online journalist or cyber-dissident who has helped to promote freedom of expression on the Internet.

For the past year, Syrian citizen journalists have continued to collect and disseminate information on the uprising wracking their country. Reporters Without Borders tonight honored these courageous activists, awarding them the 2012 Netizen Prize.

Jasmine a 27-year-old Syrian activist living in Canada, accepted the award in a ceremony in Paris on behalf of the Local Coordination Committees. She preferred to use a pseudonym to protect her family inside Syria. “The Netizen Prize proves that our voices were heard and that we succeeded in delivering the stories of millions of Syrians who are struggling on the ground to achieve what they have always dreamed - to live in freedom and dignity” she said.

This is third year in a row that Google has sponsored the Netizen Prize. Reporters Without Borders counts 200 cases of netizens arrested in 2011, up 30% over the previous year. Five were killed. This is the highest level of violence against netizens ever recorded. More than 120 are currently in jail for keeping us informed. Our own products are blocked in about 25 of 125 countries in which the company operates. “The Internet allows courageous individuals in Syria and elsewhere to tell their story to the world,” said Google France President Jean-Marc Tassetto. “The Netizen Prize and our work with Reporters Without Borders testifies to our belief that access to information will lead to greater freedom and greater social and economic development.”

Syrian journalists and bloggers are threatened and arrested by the government. International news organizations are, for the most part, kept out of the country. In their absence, the committees have become almost the only way to keep the world abreast of the violence wracking the country. They emerged spontaneously following the start of the Syrian revolution last March, bringing together human rights activists and local journalists, and now are found in most cities and towns across the country. “The Netizen Prize proves that our voices were heard," Jasmine said.

Informants on the ground send information and the committees confirm it from multiple sources. A third group translates the news into English and distributes it. News, videos and pictures are posted on the group's Facebook page, on its photo blog, and on the group’s own website. "There are millions of stories that made us cry, laugh, get mixed emotions since the uprising began,” Ola added. “We were talking to a mother of three detainees and she made us all promise each other that no matter what, we will never stop covering the events of our beloved Syria."

The award was distributed on World Day Against Cyber Censorship. In 2010, the Netizen Prize was awarded to Iranian cyberfeminists. Last year, it went to Nawaat, a group blog run by independent Tunisian bloggers. The nominees for the Netizen Award 2012 come from across the globe, ranging from Russia to Syria to Brazil and China. their geographic diversity a reflection of the growing impact of the Net.

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