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Middle East: Blogging Can Get You Killed!

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Minarets at Dawn - Medina, Saudi Arabia

(Medina by Shabbir Siraj via Flickr)

Blogging can get you killed in the Middle East! This is one of the facts you face in ministry to certain areas around the world. In America and in the West we are free to communicate our religious ideas and teachings to others, but not so in Muslim dominated countries.

I once had a blogging friend that I shared with quite often back and forth but when he was called to take a mission in a far away Muslim land he went about trying to erase his internet profile and identity—it was an issue of safety for himself, his family, and everyone associated with him. I happily complied and erased his last name and replaced with his initials in the forty or so places that it appeared on my blog. I was sad to see him go and pray for him every time I think about him and the somewhat dangerous mission that he is on.

Here’s a quote from an article in Time that lists some of the most dangerous places to blog in the Middle East along with some particular cases:

IRAN

Authorities regularly detain or harass bloggers who write critically about religious or political figures, the Islamic revolution, and its symbols. The government requires all bloggers to register their Web sites with the Ministry of Art and Culture. Government officials claim to have blocked millions of Web sites, according to news reports. A newly created special prosecutor’s office specializes in Internet issues and works directly with intelligence services. Pending legislation would make the creation of blogs promoting “corruption, prostitution, and apostasy” punishable by death.

Lowlight: Blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi, jailed for insulting the country’s religious leaders, died in Evin Prison in March under circumstances that have not been fully explained.

SYRIA

The government uses filtering methods to block politically sensitive sites. Authorities detain bloggers for posting content, even third-party material, deemed to be “false” or detrimental to “national unity.” Self-censorship is pervasive. In 2008, the Ministry of Communications ordered Internet café owners to get identification from all patrons, to record customer names and times of use, and to submit the documentation regularly to authorities. Human rights groups note that authorities harass and detain bloggers perceived as antigovernment.

Lowlight: Waed al-Mhana, an advocate for endangered archaeological sites, is on trial for a posting that criticized the demolition of a market in Old Damascus.

SAUDI ARABIA

An estimated 400,000 sites are blocked inside the kingdom, including those that tackle political, social, or religious issues. Self-censorship is widespread. Aside from “indecent” material, Saudi Arabia blocks “anything contrary to the state or its system,” a standard that has been interpreted liberally. In 2008, influential clerics called for harsh punishment, including flogging and death, for online writers guilty of posting material deemed heretical.

Lowlight: Blogger Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan was jailed without charge for several months in 2007 and 2008 for promoting reform and the release of political prisoners.

TUNISIA

Internet service providers are required to submit IP addresses and other identifying information to the government on a regular basis. All Internet traffic flows through a central network, allowing the government to filter content and monitor e-mails. The government employs an array of techniques to harass bloggers: conducting surveillance, restricting bloggers’ movements, and undertaking electronic sabotage. Online writers Slim Boukhdhir and Mohamed Abbou have served jail time for their work.

Lowlight: In a March address, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali warned writers against examining government “mistakes and violations,” saying it was “an activity that is unbecoming of our society and is not an expression of freedom or democracy.”

EGYPT

Authorities block only a small number of Web sites, but they monitor Internet activity on a regular basis. Traffic from all Internet service providers passes through the state-run Egypt Telecom. Authorities regularly detain critical bloggers for open-ended periods. Local press freedom groups documented the detention of more than 100 bloggers in 2008 alone. Although most bloggers were released after short periods, some were held for months and many were kept without judicial order. Most detained bloggers report mistreatment, and a number have been tortured.

Lowlight: Blogger Abdel Karim Suleiman, known online as Karim Amer, is serving a four-year prison term on charges of insulting Islam and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Fortunately, we can reach out to nearly all the Middle East through the Internet and in some places Christian blogs and websites may be their only contact with Christianity—seeds can be sowed and we can touch and affect people in ways that we have no way of knowing in this life. But I do believe there will be rejoicing in the life to come.            *Top

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