Silicon Valley promoting freedom of expression and political activism
- Nebojsa Despotovic
- On November 8, 2011
Non-profit activist website http://Accessnow.org recently hosted the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference this past October in San Francisco. The conference focused on how the high-tech industry can better plan for and manage the human rights implications of their technologies, featuring speakers such as Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, and Michael Posner, US Assistant Secretary of the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. However, Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abd El Fatah stood out with his passionate language and zeal for social change. Unfortunately, after his visit to the conference, he flew back to Egypt knowing that he was going to be detained by military prosecutors to face charges brought by the military. His crime? Demanding that civilians be tried by judges, not soldiers.
Access is an international NGO that promotes open access to the internet as a means to free, full and safe participation in society and the realization of human rights. They work to build the technical capacity of digital activists and civil society groups to form a global movement campaigning on behalf of digital rights for all. They have put on an ongoing digital campaign to free Abd El Fatah, which can be found on their homepage www.accessnow.org. Already blazing the trail with over 16,000 signatures, Access is well on its way to its goal of 20,000 (https://www.accessnow.org/page/s/free-alaa). They have been urging representatives from the U.S. government and the European Parliament to demand his release from the Egyptian regime and are gathering steam with the collective voice of digital activists.
On October 30, 2011 Abd El Fatah was detained by military police on charges of inciting violence against the military during protests at the Maspero state television building in Cairo on October 9. The 29-year old software developer and blogger declined to be interrogated as a matter of principle. Since he has refused to recognize the legitimacy of his interrogators or answer their questions, he is set to be held for 15 days, which could be extended indefinitely by the authorities.
Abd El Fatah said, “They [the army] committed a massacre, a horrible crime, and now they are working on framing someone else for it. This whole situation is distorted. Instead of launching a proper investigation, they are sending activists to trial for saying the plain truth – that the army committed a crime in cold blood.”
The Oct 9 protest resulted in the deaths of 28 people, the majority Coptic Christians. Although the authorities blame protestors for the initial violence that occurred that night, eyewitnesses along with video footage claim that soldiers used unnecessary force, firing live ammunition and driving armored personnel carriers into the crowds.
Since Mubarak was ousted in February, Abd El Fatah and other protestors have turned their attention to the military junta whose early promises to defend the revolution have turned out to be increasingly hollow. Since the army took over after the revolution, more than 12,000 civilians are believed to have been sent to military trial. The trials resulted in the conviction of more than 8,000 people and have caused an uproar among revolutionaries. Humans rights groups around the world have condemned the tribunals, calling them a gross distortion of legal justice.
This is not the first time Abd El Fatah, who comes from a famous family of leftist activists, has been arrested. In May of 2006 he was arrested during a peaceful protest and jailed for 45 days. This sparked an international uproar among bloggers and activists, leading to the creation of blogs such as “Free Alaa” and the Twitter hashtag #FreeAlaa. After his release, his wife Manal was quoted as saying, “There’s no going back now. We’ll definitely be continuing our activities.”
Abd El Fatah helped create the online space in which opponents of the Mubarak dictatorship could organize and challenge the regime. He has staunchly supported initiatives that promote social media, freedom of expression and political activism. The last public article he wrote was in the Independent Daily about the Maspero clashes and the two days spent at a Coptic hospital arguing for autopsy reports.