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Amnesty International outlines the importance of the internet and of Wikileaks

Translated Friday 27 May 2011, by Harry Cross and reviewed by Derek Hanson

In its recently published annual report, the NGO insists on the decisive role played by Wikileaks, as well as new forms of information technology and communication in the revolutions through the Arab World, and particularly in Tunisia.

The role of Wikileaks in Tunisia

The French media has often claimed that the release of confidential diplomatic cables was of little importance. It is easy to remember the claim “we’re learning nothing new” repeated at great length by French editorialists. Nevertheless, the release of these cables demonstrated clearly to Tunisians that governments were aware of their situation and yet were doing nothing. A true case of silent approval. However, the NGO states very clearly that numerous Wikileaks documents (link in French) meant that outsiders “understood the roots of the anger.”

The report of Amnesty International gives two examples. An initial dispatch concerns the ambassadors of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, in which they openly admit their knowledge that the Tunisian authorities are torturing opposition. Another American document outlines the extent to which the Tunisian economy was suffering from widespread corruption, police rackets and money laundering by the Ben Ali clan.

From this, the Tunisians discovered that they were truly alone, without aid, and that not even an official denunciation was to come from the West, which reinforced the ambient despair. It was at this moment that Mohamed Bouazizi (link in French), a young street vendor of fruit and vegetables having had his goods racketeered by the police, set himself on fire.

To inform and fight against censorship

It was the terrible images of Mohamed Bouazizi’s desperate act, posted immediately on the internet that quickly sparked revolution. The Tunisian government instantly sought control of the images, but in vain. They were circulated via cell phones and social networks, feeding the anger of the people. Somewhat vaguely, Amnesty International explained: “The Tunisian government sought to enforce a tight media blackout and shut down individual access to the internet but news quickly spread thanks to new technologies.” They specified further on that governments “blocked access to the internet and cut mobile phone lines in their efforts to staunch protests.”

The report omitted that it is the mobilisation of internet users around the world, under the label of “Anonymous”, that allowed thousands of Tunisians to bypass censure and to continue to inform themselves and others. They connected over secure internet lines, explained how to access banned sites and acquired the means to organise themselves. This is of course also what is being found in Egypt, Libya and Iran.

At stake, the control of the internet

Of importance in the report is that Amnesty International, whilst prioritising the deciding role of technological tools for accessing information, points also to the problem of its control. The internet was only able to play this deciding role because no one, despite the tragic attempts of China in this field, can totally control it.

One must remember that this same day, on the occasion of the e-G8, Nicolas Sarkozy declared to the world’s foremost economic leaders, while discussing the internet: “It would be a contradiction to keep governments away from this great forum,” and shortly after “we need to hear your aspirations, your needs. You have to pay attention to our limits and our red lines.”

Discover in l’Huma of Wednesday, 25th of May, shocking revelations, specifically denounced by Amnesty International in its report, regarding the crimes of exaction committed in Côte d’Ivoire.
Read also «WikiLeaks, une vraie bouffée d’oxygène»WikiLeaks trouble le monde arabe (article in French).

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