Reporters Without Borders Deplores Unesco Snub Of Online Freedom Day

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

By withdrawing its seal of approval for International Online Free Expression Day, Thursday March 13, Unesco is turning back the clock 20 years “to the time when authoritarian regimes called the shots at Unesco headquarters in Paris,” an angry Reporters Without Borders declared Thursday.

Paris-based RSF, for its initials in French, said Unesco withdrew its patronage at the last minute, with the group finding out only Tuesday night.

RSF officially asked for Unesco patronage of the day through the French National Commission to the UN body. Unesco, in its own statement Thursday, acknowledged that in a Feb. 22 letter to the RSF, Unesco Director-General Koichiro Matsuura granted the patronage.

“This letter clearly indicated, however, that the Organization could not ‘be associated with the activities envisaged for this occasion’ by RSF,” Unesco added.

Among the ways RSF is marking the occasion is with “cyber-demos” in online versions of nine nations RSF says are especially repressive against so-called cyber dissidents. “Internet users can create an avatar, choose a message
for their banner and take part in one of these virtual protests,” the organization said.

At least 62 cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned worldwide, RSF said. And it said more than 2,600 Web sites, blogs, or discussions forums were closed or made inaccessible in 2007.

RSF also released an updated list of “Internet Enemies,” 15 countries it says repress free expression on the Internet: Belarus; Burma; China; Cuba; Egypt; Ethiopia; Iran; North Korea; Saudi Arabia; Syria; Tunisia; Turkmenistan; Uzbekistan; Vietnam; and Zimbabwe.

RSF charges Unesco backed out of its patronage because of pressure from some of those nations.

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