Coldplay, Geldof and Tutu are among 20,000 supporting the Observer/Amnesty campaign
Chris Martin, Martha Lane Fox, Bob Geldof and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are among nearly 20,000 people who have backed the Observer and Amnesty International campaign to end repression on the internet. This remarkable response to the launch of irrepressible.info last week included support from around the world.
The campaign - 45 years after a powerful article in this newspaper led to the founding of Amnesty International - recognises the internet as a new frontier in the struggle for human rights. It demands that governments stop censoring websites, blocking emails and persecuting and imprisoning bloggers. It also calls for major corporations to stop making it easier for them to do so.A remarkable 18,790 people have pledged their support so far. Among them is Martha Lane Fox, who became a star of the first ‘dotcom boom’ when she co-founded the online retailer lastminute.com. She said: ‘I was lucky enough to have my horizons expanded and my business life transformed by the web - I wholeheartedly support The Observer’s Irrepressible campaign.’
More than 1,000 blogs are already linked to the irrepressible.info website, and the campaign has been welcomed by bloggers who have suffered under oppressive regimes.
Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian now living in Canada, whose blog Hoder.com has been censored in Iran, said: ‘By censoring the internet and specifically blogs, governments are depriving themselves of amazing sources of information about what their population thinks of them and what they are are up to.
‘If blogs were around at the time of the Islamic Revolution [in Iran] in 1979, the former Shah would have probably predicted the massive uprising and could have changed his attitude towards running the state. Reading blogs for an official now is like when kings used to go out at night in disguise to see the ordinary lives of ordinary people. I am pleased to support the irrepressible.info campaign.’
In an article to launch the campaign last week, Kate Allen, UK director of Amnesty International, highlighted the case of Shi Tao. The Chinese journalist was sentenced to 10 years’ hard labour for using the web to reveal that his country’s newspapers were being restricted in their coverage of the anniversary of the democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Information from Yahoo was used as evidence for his conviction.
As well as inviting people to sign the campaign pledge for freedom of speech, the irrepressible.info website - which has had 81,563 unique visitors, almost half from America - encourages people to write to the Chinese authorities and Yahoo to urge Shi Tao’s release. In the past week 3,128 emails have been sent.
There was a further blow to Yahoo when the National Union of Journalists advised its 40,000 members to boycott the firm’s products and services, accusing it of providing ‘information to Chinese authorities that helped identify and prosecute several journalists and pro-democracy writers’. The union cited the case of Shi Tao as well as those of Jiang Lijun, jailed for four years for articles calling the Beijing government ‘autocratic’, and Li Zhi, sentenced to eight years for discussing democracy in a web forum and emailing pro-democracy campaigners.
‘The Chinese government has an atrocious record of censorship and free expression,’ said Jeremy Dear, the union’s general secretary. ‘The NUJ regards Yahoo’s actions as a completely unacceptable endorsement of the Chinese authorities. The NUJ will be cancelling all Yahoo-operated services and advising members to boycott Yahoo until the company changes its irresponsible and unethical policy.’
Mary Osako of Yahoo said: ‘The facts of the Shi Tao case are distressing to our company, our employees and our leadership. We condemn punishment of any activity internationally recognised as free expression, in China or anywhere else. We have made our views clearly known to the Chinese government.’
Amnesty International has uncovered internet repression in countries such as Iran, Israel, the Maldives, Tunisia and Vietnam. In Egypt last month at least six bloggers were among about 300 people jailed during anti-government protests.
Founding supporters of the campaign:
Bryan Adams musician
Margaret Atwood writer
Lord Avebury campaigner
Norman Baker MP
Joan Bakewell broadcaster
Beryl Bainbridge writer
Honor Blackman actor
Melvyn Bragg broadcaster
Michael Brandon actor
Rory Bremner satirist
Shami Chakrabarti director of Liberty
Eric Clapton musician
Baroness Frances D’Souza
Dr Shirin Ebadi Nobel Peace Prize winner
Peter Gabriel musician
Paul Gambaccini broadcaster
Bob Geldof musician and campaigner
Richard E Grant actor
Lord (Raymond) Hylton
John Kampfner editor, New Statesman
Charles Kennedy MP
Baroness (Helena) Kennedy QC
Glenys Kinnock MEP
Lord (Neil) Kinnock
Peter Kosminsky film director and writer
Martha Lane Fox internet entrepreneur
Simon Le Bon singer
Helen Lederer comedian
Maureen Lipman actor
Roger Lloyd Pack actor
Joanna Lumley actor
Art Malik actor
Chris Martin and Coldplay musicians
Robert Ménard secretary-general, Reporters Without Borders
Henderson Mullin managing director, Index on Censorship
Lembit Opik MP
Gordon Prentice MP
Dave Stewart musician
Desmond Tutu archbishop
Xu Wenli head, overseas exiles branch, Chinese Democratic party
Ken Wiwa campaigner
Derek Wyatt MP
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